Tionontateca & Tionontate
by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
The name of this tribe is seen in two different forms from the 1600s to the present. The root words, Tiononta equate to the Nahuatl words Teo nonta (or nonte). They mean, “deity became mute.” The “teca” suffix is Nahuatl and means “people or tribe.” The “te” suffix is Itza Maya and Itzate Creek and means “people or tribe.”
In the Colony of Virginia, this tribe was called the Petun or Tobacco Indians. Petun is a Tupi word for tobacco from northern South America, which was adopted by the French in Canada, plus Dutch and Portuguese traders.
Academicians assume that the Canadian branch of this people spoke a dialect of Huron, but the language is extinct. Little is known about the Tionontateca or Tionanotate, who formerly lived in West Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. If mentioned at all in research papers or media articles by academicians in the United States, the author typically quotes the poorly researched, century old, speculations of ethnologist John Swanton.
The Cherokee were vassals of the Tionontateca in Quebec and then in present day West Virginia. This probably explains why northern Mexican DNA markers are being found in a significant percentage of Cherokee families. The Cherokee also have an oral tradition that one of their bands lived in Mexico before coming east.
The Tionontateca will be discussed more comprehensively in an upcoming article in our series for Native American Heritage Month.