Final Research Paper
The Role of Native and Métis Women In the Western Fur Trade
Over time, the power that Native women held with in their tribe has unfortunately digressed. During the age of exploration Native women have played key roles in the western fur trade. Native women assisted the fur traders by being liaison between the Europeans and Natives. This role was fundamental in strengthening trade increasing the economic stability of the post. They acted as guides for the European traders who often found themselves in dangerous and unfamiliar territory. Finally, they provided an intimate relationship for the European traders, and played a pragmatic role as a domesticated wife. However in order to fully understand the magnitude of the role Native women played in the fur trade, it is crucial to deconstruct the ethnocentric and biased perspectives of the male-centered, Euro-Canadian interpretation of this part in history.
The earliest merchants in North America were the people of the First Nations. Initially they traded amongst themselves. When Europeans set foot onto North American soil in the 16th century, trading relationships between first nations people and Europeans were formed. Europeans explored the east cost of mainland North America. They traded with the natives they met. They traded knives, hatchets, and beads to the Indians for fur and meat. Native trappers brought furs from the interior to the St. Lawrence River and traded there for manufactured goods from Europe. These goods included iron tools, wool blankets, colorful cloth, and guns. Over time trade relations began to grow and demand for furs in Europe increased. The fur trade became a significant industry for economic stability in North America. As long time rivals, the French and English traders continued to compete for furs, increasing demand and economic stability. The French continued to compete with the English for management of the trade in Rupert’s land and feared the level of English involvement here. A military conflict ensued for forty years, from 1670 to 1713 for control of the Hudson Bay. However, after the seven years war between France and England, in 1760 ended with the defeat of France, English forces now had control over Canada and more importantly the Hudson Bay Company. After decades of stiff competition with French fur traders, the English now hoped to have a monopoly on the fur market. In spite of this there was still a divide among trade transactions between the French and English. Montreal based traders continued trading in the Great lakes area as well as moving west, burgeoning their trading territory into southern and western Manitoba and into the prairies. The London based Hudson Bay Company stayed in their forts along the shores of the Hudson Bay waiting for the Natives to bring them the furs. A problem arose for the Hudson Bay when independent “peddlers” from Quebec intersected the Natives traveling to the Hudson Bay and traded with them on the spot. Eventually this prompted the Hudson Bay Company to build a post a significant distance inland from the Hudson Bay to stop this. This was now an issue for the independent “peddlers” who had been competing with the Hudson Bay Company for years. In the face of this challenge the traders decided to pool their resources and the North West Company was born. Both companies had a critical effect on the traders’ experience; so did their interaction with the native people. During the fur trade, “white and Indian met on the most equitable footing that has ever characterized the meeting of the “civilized” and “primitive” people,”. The fur trader need not seek to conquer the Indian, to take his land or to change his basic way of life or beliefs. Western Canadian Natives were neither subject nor slave. Even as late as the mid-19th century, the Hudson Bay Company did not exercise direct authority over the tribes in Rupert’s Land. Governor Simpson then testified at the Parliamentary...
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