The Fur-Trade of the 18th and 19th century is a very significant and controversial topic, depending on what perspective you look at it from. As a general, non-biased summary, what happened was that the early European colonization of Eastern North America was highly reliant on the people, resources, and land that was available in such an unknown and foreign environment. The French and English colonies –subjectively- tried quite hard to establish a trusting and efficient relationship with the indigenous people of the land. Because human nature values survival more than ethics, we have a history of acting in our best interest especially when we are less connected to the opposing party. Because the settlers have been exposed to the more “modernized” lifestyle of capitalism and the aboriginal people have not, there wasn’t an equal playing field in terms of the comprehension of the agreements and treaties. Moreover, the language and social experience barrier played a large role in how much trust was put in the desperate, determined, and feisty European colonies. The example of this issue that will be discussed is the influence the Hudson’s Bay Company and export of beaver pelts had on the economic and social lives of the aboriginal people.

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There are many overviews of this topic because of how important it is to our past. Since most online information is/are secondary sources in the form of articles written by secondary source people, it was hard to determine whether the information was authentic or not. The closest informative resource that I found to be primary is the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives. Although they were not written at the time of the incident, they are solid evidence to the happening of the fur-trade and the responsibility of the HBC and the founders of Canada. Some websites were harder to understand than others, but the basic theme of the arguments revolved around the morals of what decent behaviour is within a society.

When analyzing how the Fur-trade has developed and impacted the various communities, we notice that there are several perspectives that come into play. The beginning of the exchange of resources could be what some consider to be “revolutionary” because of how surprisingly well the set up worked and “acceptance” of the other culture was achieved. Trading companies valued natural resources such as furs and pelts, whereas the aboriginal were striving to have the convenient items that Europeans had lots of, such as metal, textiles, foodstuffs, and guns. This was fantastic for both parties, because the exchanges were efficient, organized, and done –somewhat- peacefully at their respective trading posts. Despite the many other drawbacks of the agreements between the communities, the first nations did benefit from the rivalry of the French and English. For example, the HBC’s denial to set up trading posts in the interior of Rupert’s Land heightened the value of pelts that are delivered to the coast, so that HBC had enough exported material to accommodate the sales it was expected to make. This prosperity was quite short-lived, though.

What we don’t always consider when we think of this constantly evolving time are the impediments that were inflicted upon the native population. Firstly, most of the agreements between the Europeans and Aboriginal people weren’t fair to begin with. Language barriers, lack of economic and social experience, and knowledge of material worth all contributed to the amount of profit that the colonies were making. Aboriginal heritage, traditions, and morals passed down by generations focus on teaching trustworthiness, respect, and fairness. It is argued that those qualities of their culture were significantly taken advantage of throughout the trade. In a way, the items that were being received in the trade were very functional and helpful, falsely displaying an exaggerated amount of worth. Because of this hunger to modernize the culture that has followed land-friendly traditions for thousands of years, many inter-aboriginal relationships were broken. With many bread givers relying on the fur-trade as a primary source of support, hunting became the most competitive profession with the intensity ever-escalating as the majority of the beaver population eventually got killed. The Battle of Seven Oaks and the ongoing rivalry between HBC and NWC are examples of conflicts that wouldn’t have gone as far if not so much was at stake for the employees. Eventually, the growth of the white population and accumulated knowledge of the land lead to a point where the massive colonies are able to be completely independent. Assimilation of the remaining coloured people (those who did not die from European-introduced diseases) into the mainstream white culture was the goal, although significantly later in Canadian history than our focused time period.

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All of these circumstances and factors can be very uneven and strange when added up for an outcome to view from out perspective, but such an issue was probably judged in a whole other way back then. From what we can observe from the result of this trade, the nature of the aboriginal way of life may have been more trusting and forgiving to everyone, making it so much more unfair that those qualities could have been spotted and abused. It is quite clear that the settlers have always had the upper hand in knowledge when it came to experience with difficult people, desperate situations, and economic stance and sustainability. With current understanding of this significant difference, we know that just the act of trading with first nation’s people is already unfair to them. Another example of differentiating perspectives is the racism that the remaining people were faced with, because while we currently know that it is the wrong thing on all levels, the idea of racism didn’t exist then and was instead propelled by the very thing that encouraged life: religion. Being of different beliefs contradicted the whole idea of coming together to be good humans, but they did make up their mind on the importance of loyalty to their beliefs.

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In the end, the Hudson’s Bay Company, Northwest Company, and general export of beaver pelts have all had a large influence on the culture and working lives of the aboriginal people. The colonization of Canada by the English and French couldn’t have happened without the fur-trade, help from aboriginal people, and funding from the home countries. If that were the case, then the many incredibly unique cultures of many Native American groups would still be around today, along with the people that never died from foreign diseases. At the same time, those groups and Europeans eventually meeting would still likely call for the same problems, such as an inequality of knowledge, manipulation of culture, and loss of resources.

 

Image sources

https://fineartamerica.com/featured/1-canada-fur-traders-1777-granger.html

http://www.canadiangeographic.com/atlas/LessonPlan_Html/MB_6-8_Beaver.htm

http://carletonuel.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/furtrading.png

Information sources

 

1.http://thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/m/article/hudsons-bay-company/

2.https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Seven_Oaks

3.Crossroads- A Meeting of Nations

4.http://bclearningnetwork.com/LOR/media/fns12/COURSE_8730771_M/my_files/module2/section1/lesson4/topic1.html

5.https://wearecanadians.wordpress.com/category/canadian-history/first-nations-relations/

6.http://www.cbc.ca/history/EPCONTENTSE1EP6CH5PA3LE.html

7.http://www.canadahistoryproject.ca/1500/1500-13-effects-fur-trade.html

8.http://www.northwestjournal.ca/XIII2.htm