The Tionontati were an Iroquoian-speaking people living south of Nottawasaga Bay, an inlet of Georgian Bay, the southern part of Lake Huron, in present-day southeastern Ontario, Canada. They lived to the north and west of the HURON (wyandot), fellow Iro-quoians. The name Tionontati, pronounced tee-oh-nahn-TAH-tee or tee-oh-NAHN-tuh-tee, a variation of which is Khionontateronon, is thought to mean “where the mountain stands,” their territory consisting of highlands. Two other names are frequently applied to them: Petun and Tobacco. Petun, an early French word for “tobacco,” was probably derived from a South American Indian language, adopted by the Portuguese and passed to the French. It was first applied to the tribe by the French trader and explorer Samuel de Champlain, who reached Tionontati lands in 1616. The French Gens du Petun came to be translated into English as Tobacco Nation, and the shortened form Petun, into Tobacco.
The Tionontati way of life resembled that of their neighbors in the Northeast Culture Area, the Huron,
NEUTRAL, and ERIE (see NORTHEAST INDIANS). They lived in palisaded villages of longhouses. They hunted, fished, and cultivated corn, beans, and squash. It is also assumed that they grew tobacco. It is not known with certainty why Champlain applied that name to them specifically when all the tribes he encountered either grew or had and smoked tobacco. Champlain did not mention the plant other than in the name he called them and described only corn as one of their crops. The Tionontati were among those tribes with whom the French traded, the Huron acting as middlemen. No other later French visitors to the Tionontati referenced tobacco as their specialty crop. One theory maintains that Champlain may have in fact meant the Neutral in his writings, as they were known as traders in tobacco. In any case, studies have proven that tobacco can be grown under controlled conditions in the Tionontati homeland and that Tionontati pipes had tobacco residue in their bowls. A likely theory is that the plant came to be associated with the tribe because of specific ritualistic use.
The Tobacco existed as a tribe only for a short period after contact with Europeans. In 1640, the Jesuits built a mission among them, at which time their two moieties (tribal subdivisions), Deer and Wolves, had nine villages between them. In 1649, during the period that the IRO QUOIS (haudenosaunee) made war on the Huron, they also attacked the Tionontati, who harbored Huron refugees. Survivors from both tribes soon fled to the region southwest of Lake Superior, becoming known as the Wyandot. People of other displaced tribes very likely joined them over the years since they lived in a number of different locations. The group known as Wyandot ended up in the Indian Territory in the 1850s, where descendants live today.
See DIEGUENO (TIPAI-IPAI)