Late in the year 1700, the French were starting to establish the city of Detroit, Michigan. A man by the name of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac had a proposal of measures to establish Detroit, but not without causing issues between the French and the Native Americans. With there being a large population of Iroquois living in that area, there were obvious tensions between the two groups. This proposal would come to show Cadillac’s prejudices towards the Iroquois as well as the gender norms of the time for both the French and the Native Americans.
In the book The Great Water by Matthew Thick, a letter written by Cadillac details his ideas on how to establish the city of Detroit. However, between the lines of his proposal, you can see the obvious prejudice he has towards Native Americans. In one excerpt, Cadillac says “We must establish at this post missionaries of different communities such as Jesuits and other Fathers … with orders in particular to teach the young savages the French language, [that] being the only means to civilize and humanize them …” (p 21.)
Cadillac’s plan to assimilate the Iroquois into French culture involved sending religious leaders into the homes of Native Americans and teaching the young children (whom he harshly refers to as “savages”) their religion and language, so as to “take wild beasts at their birth, birds in their nests, to tame them and set them free.” (p 21.) This shows that Cadillac viewed the Native Americans as wild beasts and savages that needed to be tamed. While he sees the Iroquois as potential allies, he still relates them to wild animals, showing his true feelings about these people.
In his letter, Cadillac also points out the different roles of men and women during this time period. Men were expected to be soldiers and to work towards establishing the city. However, women were expected to stay home and raise the children. Women are only used or talked about when there are benefits to be had by men, which continues on into my next argument; that Cadillac viewed and planned to use woman as political pawns in his plan to establish the city.
Another one of Cadillac’s ideas to help soften relations between the French and Iroquois was to allow French soldiers and Canadians to marry “savage” maidens once they had been instructed in the ways of the French. He saw this as an opportunity to assimilate Native Americans into French culture and also to try and stop reproduction within the Iroquois tribe. By marrying Native American women, the French and Canadians hoped to spread not only their influence, but also their genes into the tribe to get them to become more like the Europeans.
In conclusion, Cadillac’s plan to establish the city of Detroit was unfair to the Native Americans as he was prejudiced against them, and planned to rip their own culture from them and sew French culture in its place in hopes of uniting the two groups. In reality, this only worsened tensions and widened the gap between the two groups, resulting in centuries of unfairness and injustice towards Native American people that we still see evidence of today.
- Thick, Matthew. The Great Water. Michigan State University Press, 2018.