Outline the focus of your inquiry and provide background knowledge. Why is this an important and significant question to ask about the past? Provide evidence from primary and secondary sources.
My inquiry question is: To what extent did the fur trade affect the lives and living conditions of indigenous peoples? I wanted to mainly focus on the after effects of the fur trade that the First Nations people’s experienced, and the events directly preceding them. To start, I knew little about the fur trade, and even less about the indigenous peoples during this time. Most of what I knew focused on the Europeans and how they were affected. After watching the video in class, I had a much better knowledge of the events of the fur trade, but still little knowledge about the indigenous peoples. This led me to choose my question.
I find it unfair that the point of view of the indigenous peoples in this time isn’t talked about very much, and I decided I wanted to be able to teach others about it. It is a very important, significant event in history, and the question is appropriate to ask because we know so much about one side of the story and so little about the other that we can easily become biased. The majority of the sources I found while conducting research were secondary sources, as this was a long time ago and there was very little recorded by indigenous peoples. Eventually, after some searching, I found some primary sources, such as the picture below.
This picture is of a trading permit made for Louis Denys de la Ronde, who was a part of the fur trade. It is a primary source because it was created at the same time as the event. I also found a picture of a map created recently, explaining where the trades took place. This is a secondary source, as it was created long after the event.
Why did your researched events happen the way they did and what were the consequences?
The fur trade happened, as you probably know, because the Europeans realized how many fur pelts the indigenous people possessed and wanted to trade for them. The fur pelts kept people warm during the harsh winters, and ended up being an extremely popular fashion item in Europe. Beaver pelts were used in hats, bags, jackets and more. The indigenous peoples liked the goods that were brought over from Europe, and decided to trade their fur pelts for the goods. Ships began to sail from Europe for the sole reason of collecting furs. Slowly, the fur trade grew. Trading posts were established, explorers moved up north to attempt to find more furs, and the amount of land being used expanded greatly.
The above picture is a drawing of three European men trading a First Nations man tools for a beaver pelt. So far, you probably think this was the best idea ever. However, like anything else, there were consequences. One of the biggest things I discovered related to my topic was that the indigenous people who had been living on the coast of what is now Quebec were pushed inland by the fur trades. When there were no more animals to hunt, they moved to find better hunting areas so that they could trade with the Europeans.
The above picture is of seven aboriginal men and women hunting for beaver pelts. Many people were forced out of their jobs, such as fishing, to move into the fur trading industry. This was almost essential to survive.
Another big problem that arose because of the fur trade was a huge decrease in indigenous population. The Europeans brought over many diseases that were uncommon in what is now Canada, such as smallpox, influenza, measles and tuberculosis. In under eleven years, the population of the Eastern Abenaki, an indigenous tribe, decreased from approximately 10,000 to 3,000. This had a huge impact on the lives of the indigenous peoples, as well as on the fur trade. There were less people to hunt the furs, and therefore less to trade. This did not benefit either the Europeans or the Aboriginals. There were also less people to grow food, so the indigenous peoples often had to trade their precious pelts for food in order to stay alive.
The picture below is of the thick coated beaver, one of the main reasons the fur trade got so big. The farther north the beavers live, the thicker and warmer their fur will be. This fur is much more valuable, as the Canadian winters were often extreme. The fur pelts helped the Europeans to stay alive during these unpredictable winters.
Is what happened right and fair by the values and standard of the time? How about from our current values and standards? Explain.
In that time, everything that happened was right and fair. People traded their goods for other goods, there is no knowledge of mistreatment of either side, and even though there were many indigenous people who died because of illnesses, there was no way to prevent them with the medicine and scientific knowledge at that time. With our current values and standards, I would say that a fur trade would most likely raise some concerns. Trading is rare, most people use money and buy things. However, even if there were trades, people would probably be skeptical of the deals they’re getting. For example, I could be trading a beaver pelt for a pound of spices and think it was a great deal, but in reality, unless I had background knowledge about these spices, I wouldn’t know how valuable they are and therefore wouldn’t be able to know if I am getting a good deal or not. Another thing to keep in mind is that science is now much more advanced, and we would probably be able to stop foreigners from coming in with illnesses and diseases that could dangerously impact our country.
What conclusions can you reach about your question, based on the research you conducted?
From my research, I can conclude that the indigenous peoples at this time had to deal with a lot of hardships. They were forced into moving, finding new jobs, and even were killed after long suffering from horrible diseases. However, the Europeans didn’t have it easy either. Many of them died from extreme cold temperatures in the winter. They also suffered from diseases such as scurvy, a vitamin deficiency. However, you can’t really argue that their living conditions were negatively affected, as they made the choice to live near the fur trading action. The indigenous people had little choice; either stay where you are and become unemployed, or move many times in hopes of trading pelts with Europeans. To answer my inquiry question, the indigenous peoples lives and living conditions were greatly affected during the fur trade. I don’t believe that it could have been avoided given the conditions, values and standards in that time period. However, I think that if it were to happen again, we could improve.