- Flesh Reborn: The Saint Lawrence Valley Mission Settlements through the Seventeenth Century by Jean-François Lozier
The seventeenth-century Saint Lawrence River valley was consumed by a rapid transition brought about by incessant warfare and nascent colonial politics. It was, as one witness described, “the wreck of a great country, and the pitiful remnant of a whole world. . . . mere carcasses, only the bones of which have been left by the Iroquois, who have devoured the flesh after broiling it on their scaffolds” (5).1 Jean-François Lozier’s Flesh Reborn uses this quote to open up this world and delve into the processes that led to a healing of these real and metaphorical wounds. In particular, he looks at how Indigenous people—mainly the Wendats, Haudenosaunee, and Wabanakis—remade their communities in the wake of the Haudenosaunee wars and European disease, paying particular attention to their experience in mission settlements along the Saint Lawrence River. These Christian sites, located in what colonials called New France, were French experiments in evangelization where Indigenous and European traditions merged and inhabitants adopted multicultural practices. Lozier demonstrates their importance to Indigenous villagers as well as French Jesuit missionaries, who were some of the first Europeans to live among Indigenous peoples in the Great Lakes area. The relationships forged during these early years of contact, Lozier argues, became vital to European powers who were vying for control over North America. Further, he shows that the missions were not just European tools of colonialism; Indigenous people used them to ensure survival, and their strategies of existing within such settlements transformed Indigenous identities, cultural landscapes, and kinship networks for generations.
Lozier’s narrative demonstrates a command of ethnohistorical analysis—an interdisciplinary approach to Indigenous histories that correlates Indigenous perspectives with colonial records produced by non-Indigenous authors. His work is based on a wide corpus of sources, including church and government documents from at least nineteen archives. Although they are Eurocentric in nature, Lozier sifts through these records to uncover Indigenous worldviews and actions. His first two chapters bring together the stories of the Innu and Algonquian peoples who created mission settlements with the French in the seventeenth century. These chapters investigate the long-standing use of space along the Saint Lawrence by these groups [End Page 153] before European arrival and how contact forced new claims to territory and transformations of identity. For instance, Lozier depicts how the Algonquians created missions—departing from their tradition of seasonal hunting ground migration and mobile settlement—and reorganized their alliances because they had been weakened by Haudenosaunee hostility. Chapters 3 and 4 look to the Wendats as a case study in Indigenous refugee strategies while also providing intricate details concerning Wendat-Haudenosaunee diplomacy. The seventeenth-century Wendats relocated from their homeland around Georgian Bay, Ontario, to avoid military conquest by the Haudenosaunee and protect what was left of their epidemic-ravaged population. Although they had little choice but to move, the location of their new settlements was a matter of serious debate. Ultimately, their decision to return to their ancient homeland along the Saint Lawrence was calculated to maintain connections to landscapes and allies (the French and Algonquians) who were integral to their trade and military security.
Chapters 5 and 6 reveal the complicated identity and community culture in the seventeenth century among the nascent Haudenosaunee missions of the Saint Lawrence River valley. How easily were people accepted into these new communities, and what was the process of settlement? Lozier argues that stability was “fragile” (154) at first, with more than two-thirds of Haudenosaunee villages composed of Wendat and Algonquian immigrants who had formerly been enemies of the Haudenosaunee. Social cohesion among the Haudenosaunee victors was disrupted as thousands of refugees flooded their townsites and they struggled to reimagine their communities with the incorporation of recent adversaries. Chapter 7 returns to Algonquian experiences by examining the migration of hundreds of Wabanaki refugees from...