The Orenda by Joseph Boyden is somewhat of a complex tale to describe. There are three POV (point of view) characters; Christophe, a French priest, Bird, a Wendat (Huron) man, and Snow Falls, a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) girl who was adopted by Bird.
The story took place in the mid-1600’s and essentially recounts how the Wendat (Huron) tribe was wiped out by the Haudenosaunee. Meanwhile, Christophe and two other priests are trying to convert the Wendat people to Christianity because *reasons*. It was really common for missionaries back then to try to convert the indigenous peoples in an efforts to “civilize” the people and “save their souls“, which is uncomfortable when viewed through a modern lens that recognizes the inappropriateness of such actions.
I found The Orenda a brutal book to read because of the violence that took place and because of how the tortures that were described. That said, I appreciated reading it from the POV of several characters, in that Christophe is well meaning but doesn’t seem to understand how or why his efforts to convert the people would be unwelcome, and that Snow Falls and Bird come from strong, beautiful cultures of their own. It is incredibly sad to read about the warring described in the book. The imminent colonization that had begun in this period of time was a lingering cloud through the book; missionaries like Christophe, unfortunately, were often sent to “pave the way” for the colonists (forgive me if the wording of that is a little off), and obviously today we know how devastating that has been for the indigenous people of Canada. Finally, the clash of the cultures and reading about the way that the Wendat (Huron) lived according to how Joseph Boyden described it was interesting and engaging for me.
The Orenda is a critically acclaimed book and has won several awards. I must say, it was a very good read and I would recommend adding it to the list of books about the indigenous peoples of Canada that I think all Canadians should be reading.
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