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BLOG: Depicting First Nations Tribes in Eastern Canada

There is something positively magical in the mere word, DISCOVERY! The Discovery Channel always brings to mind wildlife and unexplored places to which most people seldom venture. Since I love to travel, each place I go holds discovery for me. This summer, I've already shared about Traveler's Rest and how that campsite enlightened me on my current project. In a few weeks, I hope to "discover" some actual documents that once belonged to William Clark as a curator presents some of his letters and journals to me--kept within the Missouri Historical Society Museum.

Since I've been writing on a theme based upon the Lewis & Clark discoveries, it always excites me to see other authors writing on historical "discoveries", too. This week on the blog, I'm welcoming Barbara Greig, whose recent release, Discovery brings the 17th century back to life. More specifically, Barbara's book will feature First Nations tribes, their culture, and the interactions between native and white exploreres--a similar situation to what Lewis and Clark faced. Barbara has been kind enough to share a blog that gives us more insight into her story and the First Nations she features. Let's see what she has to say.

Depicting First Nations Tribes in Eastern Canada

By Barbara Greig

In Discovery Gabriel Gharsia’s narrative is dominated by his relations with The First Nations he meets. When I planned this I knew it would be the most difficult part of the novel to write as I only possessed limited knowledge and I wanted to be as accurate as possible. My research holiday with my husband, Mike, was invaluable in helping me achieve authenticity although I’m aware there may still be inaccuracies. We hired an RV and followed Gabriel’s journey along the St Lawrence River to Quebec and then down the side of Lake Champlain visiting every relevant museum and exhibition. Sometimes it was a bit lonely camping out of season but it was atmospheric. (Below right: One of Barbara's RV sites on her research discovery!)

The first people Gabriel encounters are the Montagnais, described by Samuel Champlain as forest-dwellers. We visited Tadoussac which is where the first French trading post was built on the St Lawrence and this is the site I used for Gabriel’s initial meeting with the indigenous inhabitants of the area. I became a little confused in my research until I realised, from a museum visit, that today the Montagnais are known as the Innu. I also learnt about the construction of wigwams and canoes as well as hunting and diet from the same visit.

(Trading Post at Tadoussac.)

Our stay in Quebec was perfect for finding out more about Samuel Champlain’s 1608 expedition. His writings are a rich resource about the Montagnais with detailed descriptions and sketches. The tribe dominated the fur trade north of the St Lawrence and were fiercely protective of it. They were happy to tell Champlain about the enormous sea to the north but would not let him navigate up the Saguenay River. Trade rivalry was one of the reasons for hostility between the tribes, and Champlain became an ally of the Montagnais, fighting with them against their traditional enemy the Iroquois, of which the Mohawk tribe was deemed the fiercest.

I could slot Gabriel Gharsia into this historically documented struggle. For example, Champlain did make an alliance with Iroquet of the Petite-Nation and Ochasteguin of the Huron, both chiefs of more eastern tribes, who were enemies of the Iroquois. A huge flotilla of canoes did set off to travel down Lake Champlain, into Mohawk territory, but it became significantly depleted and even the French shallops had to turn back as they were unsuitable for the journey. (At left, a crossing of the Saguenay River)

I continued to visit museums and sites to flesh out the storyline. The most useful museum for this was Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vermont which had fantastic displays of different types of canoes, amazingly detailed information boards about the original navigators of the area, and about Champlain himself. I studied exhibits of slat armour, for the upper body, and padded helmets which were designed as protection against arrows and marvelled at the bravery needed to face guns. We went to Ticonderoga, and although the site of the battle isn’t known exactly, I could see the nature of the land. (Below right: presumed battle Site)

The idea of a European living with the indigenous people came from the couriers de bois. This was the name given to the young men Champlain sent out to live among his First Nation allies to learn their language, their customs, and to find out more about their trading patterns. Perhaps the most famous of these was Etienne Brûlé who arrived in New France with the 1608 expedition and who makes a brief appearance in my novel. He lived with the Huron for twenty years and the timings in Discovery fit the historical record.

When I was a child my grandparents gave me a book about the peoples of the world and it sparked an interest in different cultures which I have retained. On my trip following Gabriel Gharsia I discovered how some tribes, like the Montagnais, relied on hunting for their subsistence whereas others, like the Huron and the Mohawk, cultivated the land. The tribes had diverse attitudes to relations between the sexes and to some extent the treatment of enemies. In Discovery I toned down the latter especially the treatment of the Mohawk captives after the defeat at Ticonderoga. Champlain’s record is much more graphic. I did the same with Pedro Torres’ account of the methods of the Spanish Inquisition later in the book.

Where I deviated from the historical record and told Gabriel’ fictitious story I used all the cultural information I had gathered. I knew about the Iroquois League of the Five Nations from G.C.S.E. history (I was a history teacher) and the belief in Daganawida. The descriptions of the Mohawk and Huron settlements in my book were based on museum displays as were the cooking and dyeing processes. Other cultural aspects I learnt e.g. about death rituals, marriage rituals, clothing, and the insides of the lodges were also used to enhance Gabriel’s story and I hope I haven’t offended any members of those tribes by making mistakes.

I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the culture and history of the First Nations who Champlain encountered although as a historian I appreciate much of what I saw in museums was from his accounts and therefore subject to his interpretation in the seventeenth century. I was very heartened to see the number of books written by First Nation authors in the museum shops and to read their view of events on many displays. To close my post I’ve included a photo of Champlain and his First Nation ally (below) which I saw at St Anne’s. It is very large (as you can see) and evocative.

Discovery Blurb

An epic tale of love, loss and courage When Elizabeth Gharsia’s headstrong nephew, Gabriel, joins Samuel Champlain’s 1608 expedition to establish a settlement at Quebec, he soon becomes embroiled in a complicated tribal conflict. As months turn into years, Gabriel appears lost to his family.

Meanwhile at home in France the death of her father, Luis, adds to Elizabeth’s anguish. Devastated by her loss, she struggles to make sense of his final words. Could her mother’s journals, found hidden among Luis’s possessions, provide the key to the mystery?

The arrival of Pedro Torres disrupts Elizabeth’s world even further. Rescued from starvation on the streets of Marseille by her brother, Pedro is a victim of the brutal expulsion of his people from Spain. Initially antagonistic, will Elizabeth come to appreciate Pedro’s qualities and to understand the complexity of her family?

Meet the Author!

Barbara Greig was born in Sunderland and lived in Roker until her family moved to Teesdale. An avid reader, she also discovered the joy of history at an early age. A last-minute change of heart, in the sixth form, caused her to alter her university application form. Instead of English, Barbara read Modern and Ancient History at Sheffield University. It was a decision she never regretted.

Barbara worked for twenty years in sixth form colleges, teaching History and Classical Civilisation. Eventually, although enjoying a role in management, she found there was less time for teaching and historical study. A change of focus was required. With her children having flown the nest, she was able to pursue her love of writing and story-telling. She has a passion for hiking, and dancing, the perfect antidotes to long hours of historical research and writing, as well as for travel and, wherever possible, she walks in the footsteps of her characters.

Discovery is Barbara’s second novel. Her debut novel Secret Lives was published in 2016 (Sacristy Press).



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