Inquiry Question:

To what extent did beaver fur affect the wealth of indigenous people?

 


 

Historical Significance:

During the 1600’s, fur trades were essential to indigenous people and new settlers. Indigenous peoples were important partners in this growing fur trade economy. Before settlers from Europe came to North America, Native people hunted animals for themselves. Fur would be used for clothing, hats, shoes, or anything to provide warmth for themselves. Indigenous people learned to trade with Europeans to have access to new technology such as weapons. They were skilled at trapping the animals and would collect furs in winter when the coats were thickest and keep them until the Europeans arrived to do their trading in the spring. This question is relevant and significant because it demonstrates how people in the past communicated. It shows us how much the economy has changed regarding currencies and wealth. Settlers coming into North America also used these currencies to exchange for something they deemed more valuable. Therefore, learning about the different values and standards people had in the 1600’s is key to getting an in-depth understanding of the fur trade.

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Beaver pelts were the most valued furs for trading. Each pelt would come with a “price” or value to determine what it was worth getting in exchange. For example, one beaver pelt could buy either one brass kettle, one and a half pounds of gunpowder, a pair of shoes, two shirts, a blanket, eight knives, two pounds of sugar or a gallon of brandy. Ten to twelve pelts could buy a long gun, while four pelts would purchase a pistol.

Continuity and Change:

When comparing the 1600’s to the modern day, we can find many differences as well as may similarities. For example, indigenous people in the past traded with Europeans to gain certain items in return. Nowadays, there are also forms of trading and exchanging. This way of “paying” happens without any money. The main idea is to determine how much an item is worth, and what can be exchanged for it. A difference between the 1600’s and the present day is the fact that we have our own currency now, that is specific for our country. When people travel around the world, the money we have must be exchanged in order to use it in that country. Back when indigenous people traded with Europeans, they did not have money or credit cards to pay for goods. Instead, trades were their way of acquiring new products.

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Ethical Judgement:

According to my knowledge, the trades that occurred during that time period were fair because most of the people who exchanged their goods got a useful, necessary item in return. To indigenous people, weapons and food held greater value than beaver pelts. Contrarily, beaver pelts and other furs were just what the Europeans needed. They would usually exchanged in an orderly manner, and these fur trades were right by the values and standards of the time. The value of beaver pelts didn’t always remain the same, they varied depending on the season, the location of the post, the extent of competition, and the natural supply of beaver. In comparison to our current values and standards, I believe that the trades in the past were generally more fair and respectful. Currently, many people live in poverty due to injustice concerning prices, objects of their possession, or people in power. A fact that I found interesting during my research about indigenous peoples fur trades was that if a woman from an Aboriginal group married a trader, she often acted as an interpreter and peacemaker among her people and the traders. The women helped their husbands communicate with Europeans and this improved their trading relationships.

Conclusion:

Based on the research that I conducted within these few days, I can conclude that beaver fur (or any fur) can, in fact, somewhat determine the wealth of an indigenous person. This is because the advantages of fur trades are that indigenous people can receive weapons and materials that hold much greater value to them compared to any furs they own. Weapons, food, and blankets are rarer to them as it is not common to find or create. If an indigenous person hunts more animals and owns plenty of fur, it is more likely for them to receive an offer to trade with a European and gain new resources. Overall, I learned that the fur trade involved far more than a simple exchange of commodities: it had the interchange of knowledge, technology, and material culture; it carried powerful military alliances; and it gave rise to new cultural forms and identities.

Sources:

Canada Independent Investigation – The Fate of the Fur Trade

http://digital.library.mcgill.ca/nwc/history/01.htm

http://www.masters.ab.ca/bdyck/early-canada/fur/

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

https://www.historymuseum.ca/virtual-museum-of-new-france/economic-activities/fur-trade/

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/beaver- pelts/

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/fur-trade/

http://www.montanatrappers.org/history/fur-trade.htm