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Present past, present future

The Orenda

Title: The Orenda
By: Joseph Boyden

When Europeans first arrived in the Great Lakes area, they were not the dominant powers of the region. That honor belonged to tribal confederacies such as the Wendat (whom the French called Huron) and the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). The French chose to forge alliances and trading partnerships with the Wendat, which led to their entanglement in a feud between the Wendat and the Haudenosaunee. The French attempt to give the Wendat a monopoly in the fur trade also exacerbated the existing conflict.

In recognition of the complexity of these social dynamics, The Orenda is narrated by characters from each of the cultures involved: a Jesuit missionary named Christophe, nicknamed Crow for his black robes; a Wendat warrior named Bird; and a young Haudenosaunee girl named Snow Falls, whom Bird adopts as his own daughter after taking her captive in battle.

We all know what happens next: epidemic disease, bloody wars fought with new technologies, the decimation of native populations. What The Orenda shows is that these cataclysms followed seemingly minor but ultimately insidious events such as the Wendat allowing the disease-carrying Jesuits into their villages—the "butterfly effect" of chaos theory.

As Boyden writes, "When you fall asleep laughing in the evening, it's difficult to awake crying in the sun. But this isn't about sadness, or pity, or blame...Hindsight is sometimes too easy, isn't it?" Without obsessing over either futile blame or some conception of inevitability, The Orenda also reminds us that "What's happened in the past can't stay in the past for the same reason the future is always just a breath away...The past and the future are present."

View similarly tagged posts: fiction

Posted on Oct. 6, 2014 at 5:07 a.m.

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