This week I watched "Curse of the Axe" on the History Channel. It was the second time. I seldom watch TV shows again but this one haunted me. Something about the story of this small piece of iron gripped my imagination. Even my sleep lately was interrupted by dreams of the Wyandot people who lived all around my home many, many years ago.
It seems a little melodramatic to consider a piece of iron from a European axe a curse on the people, though it was ironically a significant part of their future. Archeologists determined that it was a kind of keep sake. Bartered for its unusual characteristics not its usefulness. A charm, that someone might have kept for good luck. It was buried in the middle of the largest Wyandot village discovered in Ontario. Thus the possibility that it was ceremoniously planted, as one would plant corn, to grow or realize a magnificent future for the people. In their defense, these people were no more superstitious than Europeans who also believed, in charms, demons and witchcraft.
Aside from the fact that true Canadian history did not begin with Cartier or Columbus as the discoverers of this continent, this piece of iron, from my perspective, has a great deal more to say. The significance of which did not present itself until recently.
Not more than two miles from where I now sit in my living room is the site of a particular Wyandot village. Villages were always nestled on terrain with similar features. It had a defendable location. It had a river, stream or spring, and it had adequate level, arable land nearby to grow corn.
In my youth I saw an elderly man many times who owned this long abandoned Wyandot village. He was a retired English gentleman who grew raspberries for a hobby and drove weekly to our nearby village in a horse drawn buggy. In the process of working the land for raspberries, he unearthed a great number Wyandot articles. Since our school house was only a mile away our teacher organized a walking field trip to see what this elderly gentleman had unearthed.
He took us to the hay mow of his large barn. There, on the outside granary wall was a large collection of iron axes, that hung like scalps, linked together through the handle holes by wire and tied to spikes higher up on the wall. They were in remarkably good condition. Each were uniquely shaped, hand crafted with varying dissimilarities. I do not recall how many axes there were, but it was a sufficiently large amount to have made an indelible impression on my mind. I have not seen anything, even in a museum, yet to match this collection of axes.
As I touched them at the time, running my fingers over their edges I felt a kind of inexplicable awe, as though I should know fully their significance. As I watched "the curse of the axe" the memory of the old man's Wyandot axe collection came back to me. I was suddenly filled with sadness! This site was never abandoned! It was a village of death where the people all died from a European born disease and beside them remained one of their most valuable possessions, the iron axe.
No European disease affected indigenous people quite so forcefully as with the Wyandot people, who lost more than half their population in one or two years. In their weakened state, they were decimated by the warring Iroquois and in the end, once a proud nation, scattered to the wind.
At the time, Wyandot medicine men concluded that it was the Jesuits who made them ill, after noting that village people, visited by them, died in great numbers. The Catholic Church has kept unforgivably quiet about their involvement in the genocide of the Wyandot. It is possible that the priests who were captured and killed were indeed disease carriers.
Should there not be remorse even from those who unwittingly cause such devastation?
Ironically the priests who were killed by the Wyandot have been vilified and immortalized by the Church at the "Martyr’s Shrine". As heroes of the Church, it seems unlikely that an apology, on their behalf, will ever be forthcoming!
Considering the ill fate of the owners of the property on which this Native village stood, one could speculate that the curse has continued, but as a retribution!