Opinion: New France treated Natives with respect
"In Canada, today, another ceremony will mark the 400th anniversary of Quebec City, the first permanent settlement in New France. The ancient city has organized a party that John Adams could not have imagined, with months of festivities, fireworks and performances. And this morning, at precisely 11, the hour when Samuel de Champlain and company were thought to have landed at Quebec, bells will peal across Canada, from Newfoundland to Vancouver.

With the king’s encouragement Champlain and other like-minded men turned their thoughts to the new world. Champlain traveled through the Spanish Empire, and was shocked by the treatment of Indians. He made a written report to the king with his own vivid paintings of Indians burned alive by the Inquisition, beaten by priests for not attending Mass and exploited as forced laborers. With others in his circle, Champlain planned a New France that would be different from New Spain. On his first visit to North America in 1603, he went unarmed with one French friend and two Indian interpreters into the middle of a huge encampment of Indians from many nations — Montagnais, Algonquin, Etchemin — near the mouth of the Saguenay River.

He approached the Indians with respect, joined with them in a long tabagie (tobacco feast) and made an informal alliance that endured for many generations. The same thing happened in 1604, when he made peace with the Penobscot Indians of Maine at a tabagie in what is now downtown Bangor. It happened again with the Micmac of Acadia in 1605 and the Huron and many Algonquin nations after 1608.

All this happened while Champlain was instrumental in founding three French-speaking cultures in North America — Québéçois, Acadian and Métis. These Frenchmen did not try to conquer the Indians and compel them to work, as in New Spain. They did not abuse them as in Virginia, or drive them away as in New England. In the region that began to be known as Canada, small colonies of Frenchmen and large Indian nations lived close to one another in a spirit of amity and concord. This successful partnership was made possible in large measure because of Champlain’s dream of humanity."

Get the Story:
David Hackett Fischer: One New World, Two Big Ideas (The New York Times 7/3)

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