This Week in History

Archives

"Ambassadress of Peace"

For the week of Monday June 28, 2010

On June 30, 1715, Thanadelthur, a Sayisi Dene woman, left York Factory (in present-day northeastern Manitoba) on a mission to help find common ground between the Dene and Cree of the region. As a translator and mediator, she became instrumental in establishing peace between the two nations. 

"Ambassadress of Peace" by Franklin Arbuckle
© Courtesy of The Manitoba Museum, Hudson's Bay

York Factory was established in 1684 as an English trading post on Hayes River, upstream from Hudson Bay. James Knight became Chief Factor in 1714. He hoped to rekindle English trade after a brief French occupation, and to establish trade with the Dene who avoided York Factory because it was located in Cree territory.

Thanadelthur, meaning 'jumping marten', was captured by Cree in a spring raid in 1713. She and another Dene woman eventually escaped, but cold and hunger forced them to turn back. Her companion did not survive. However, Thanadelthur found a hunting party from the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) who took her to York Factory in November 1714.

Knight, impressed by Thanadelthur's intelligence and knowledge of languages, employed her as a translator. She told him many stories about her people, their fur resources, and of copper and a yellow metal which Knight thought was gold. Her stories inspired Knight and, over the winter of 1715, he and Thanadelthur organized a peace mission to her people.

In June of 1715, Thanadelthur left with expedition leader William Stuart, an HBC employee, and a group of Cree anxious to establish peace with their Dene neighbours. However, the expedition was plagued with sickness and hunger. Many Cree returned to their homelands and, facing starvation, those that remained separated to more easily find food. When they reached a point when they could not continue, Thanadelthur asked them to wait for 10 days while she continued alone. On the tenth day, she returned with more than 100 Dene willing to secure peace with the Cree and trade with the English.

York Factory Depot
© Parks Canada
Thanadelthur and Stuart returned to York Factory with 10 Cree and 10 Dene on May 7, 1716, after nearly 11 months. Stuart was impressed by the respect Thanadelthur commanded from all parties, and told Knight that she had been instrumental in their success. Thanadelthur remained at York Factory as a cultural mediator. She and Knight planned future expeditions, but Thanadelthur fell ill and died on February 5, 1717.

For her role both in HBC trade and as a bridge between cultures, Thanadelthur was designated a person of national historic significance in 2000. York Factory is a National Historic Site of Canada.

For more information on York Factory, see York Factory National Historic Site of Canada.
Date Modified: