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OUENEMEK (Ouilamek, Haouilamek, Ouilameg, Wilamak), Potawatomi chief of St Joseph River; born of either Sauk or Fox parents; fl. 1695–1717.

Although described by Governor Rigaud de Vaudreuil as “a man of intrigue,” Ouenemek was a consistent ally of the French at least during the early phase of his career. In 1696, for example, he was a prominent member of a war party that drove off a large band of Iroquois, who had come to Michilimackinac to trade with the Hurons and Ottawas in hopes of luring them out of the French alliance. Later, Father Joseph-Jacques Marest, a missionary at that post, suggested that Ouenemek was so necessary for preserving the allegiance of the Potawatomis that it would be wise for the governor to pay him a small subsidy.

In 1701 Ouenemek attended the peace conference held in Montreal between the French, their Indian allies, and the Iroquois. Besides displaying his natural bargaining skill during the commercial negotiations, he again demonstrated his loyalty to the French by seconding the efforts of his fellow chief, Ounanguissé, in securing the peace pledges of all the tribes of the upper lakes.

After 1701, however, the new French policy, based on fairly extensive withdrawal from the west, heralded a change in Ouenemek’s attitude. During a series of embassies to Governor Vaudreuil between 1705 and 1712 and in conversations with the missionaries at St Joseph River, he contended that, without a strong French garrison, it was impossible to restrain the young men of his tribe from engaging in the ever more widespread intertribal strife. He complained too of the harsh treatment and poor prices his people received at Detroit and insisted with increasing urgency that a canoe of Frenchmen with a permanent commandant be sent immediately to the Potawatomis.

No doubt chagrined by Vaudreuil’s failure to meet these demands completely, and conscious of his own family ties, Ouenemek was reluctant to aid the French in their war of extermination against the Foxes. In July of 1712, at Montreal, he argued against Koutaoiliboe and prophesied to Vaudreuil that it would be easier to start a total war with the Foxes than to end one, for that tribe was fiercely brave and had many allies, notably the Sauks. He repeated this warning in 1714. Because of his detached stand, he was employed as a peace envoy by the Foxes in 1717. At the same time, he promised the governor that he would use his great influence with the Foxes and Sauks to persuade Ouachala and their other chiefs to ratify the terms of the 1716 peace. His son, who was later to become a noted Potawatomi chief, was taken prisoner by the Foxes in 1721 but was returned for ransom by some Mascouten intermediaries.

Donald J. Horton

AN, Col., C11A, 22, ff.262v–63; 28, ff.161–63v, 171v; 30, ff.90–90v; 33, ff.81–83v; 42, f.320. Charlevoix, History (Shea), IV, 278; V, 143. “Correspondance de Vaudreuil,” APQ Rapport, 1947–48, 265. Indian tribes (Blair), I, 270. La Poterie, Histoire (1722), IV, 207. Michigan Pioneer Coll., XXXIII, 385, 501, 554, 559–67, 570, 590. NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow), IX, 646. Wisc. State Hist. Soc. Coll., XVI, 301, 397; XVII, 396. Y. F. Zoltvany, “New France and the west,” 301–22.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Donald J. Horton, “OUENEMEK,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 22, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ouenemek_2E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ouenemek_2E.html
Author of Article: Donald J. Horton
Title of Article: OUENEMEK
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1969
Year of revision: 1969
Access Date: July 22, 2014