Brebeuf was never martyred: Reimagining the life and death of Canada's first saint
Jean de Brébeuf was a Jesuit missionary who established residence in what is conventionally called the Huron Nation but was actually the island of Wendake where the Wendat people lived. The Catholic Church celebrates his death on 16 March 1649 as an act of martyrdom, and for the past three-and-a-half centuries, secular historians have more or less agreed. Even today, one can find scholars who describe his battle on behalf of “God” against “infidel Indians” as both brave and superhuman. But if we rethink the conventional narrative of Brébeuf's life, death, and sainthood, if we reorient his story around his Wendat name, Echon, and set his life on Wendake within the cultural context in which he lived, we can begin to see a completely different history that upsets the historiographical edifice that clerics and scholars alike have built atop his blessed bones. Indeed, the conventional history of Brébeuf's life and death embodies all of the hallmarks of a colonialist historiography premised on the invasion and conquest of America. Privileging Indigenous concepts of practice, identity, and cosmology, however, can challenge how we might write about such cultural encounters.
Canadian Historical Review
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