Indigenous Perspectives on the Fur Trade
Indigenous peoples in Canada were essential players in the fur trade of the early 17th to the mid-19th centuries. They provided animal furs, including highly sought-after beaver pelts, to European traders, who, in turn, gave Indigenous peoples manufactured items like pots, beads, textiles and weapons. While some past historians have framed the fur trade as a predominately unequal commercial exchange, it was conducted according to First Nations laws and principles, and worked to transform strangers into kin and sometimes even enemies into allies. When European traders arrived in North America, they entered an Indigenous world on Indigenous terms and travelled and traded there only with the co-operation and goodwill of First Nations. Indigenous peoples taught European newcomers how to behave in the fur trade, emphasizing the importance of gift-giving, reciprocity and family obligations. From an Indigenous perspective then, the fur trade was as much about family, co-operation and reciprocity as it was about commerce and exchange.