First Peoples > Arrival of Strangers > Early Relations > Alliances during the Fur Trade Period

Arrival of Strangers - The Last 500 Years

Early Relations

Alliances during the Fur Trade Period

"Trade and peace we take to be one thing."

- attributed to an Iroquois spokesman, 1735

"The Beaver does everything perfectly well, it makes kettles, hatchets, swords, knives, bread; in short, it makes everything... The English have no sense, they give us twenty knives like this for one Beaver skin."

- (From an Innu man) Jesuit Relations 1610-1791

In the early years, Aboriginal people and Europeans who traded with one another often entered into formal political alliances. In some regions they confirmed these alliances with speeches, gifts, and the smoking of a pipe according to Aboriginal custom. Marriages were arranged between European traders and women from important Aboriginal families. Aboriginal allies of Europeans often settled near trading posts. In some areas, these Aboriginal allies came to be called the Homeguard.

Tadoussac was an ancient trading centre where Maliseet, Mi'kmaq, Innu and others met annually to trade. European ships began arriving there in 1581. In 1603, Champlain entered into an alliance with Anadabigou, the "Chief of the Montagnais" (Innu). Champlain's goal was to secure trade partners for the French and to guarantee the Innu a reliable source of European trade goods. Innu middlemen transported European goods inland along old copper trade routes.

Port de Tadousac, by Samuel de Champlain, 1608
Courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec

Port de Tadousac - Bibliothèque nationale du Québec

Once Europeans established permanent fur trade posts, their alliances with Aboriginal people became more personal and enduring. With close and constant interaction, their exchanges expanded beyond trade goods to include food, technology, language and religion. Marriages between Aboriginal women and men from the posts became common.

York Factory on the Hayes River near Hudson Bay, became a year-round post after 1714. Swampy Cree who settled around York Factory often cut wood, hunted and fished for the post. At first, children of Hudson's Bay Company men and Cree women were raised as Cree. By the early 1800s, families were considered part of the post. The Hudson's Bay Company started a school in 1806. A Church of England missionary was stationed permanently at York Factory in 1823. The Cree built a church in 1854-1856.

Social relationships between Aboriginal people and newcomers developed in similar ways in many posts throughout Canada.

"...we have thought it would be advisable, to instruct the Children belonging to our Servants in the Principles of Religion & teach them from their Youth, reading, writing & Arithmetic also accounts which we should hope would attach them to our service & in a few Years become a small Colony of very useful hands."

- Extract from a letter of the London Committee proposing the creation of schools

"You told me Last year to bring many Indians, you See I have not Lyd. here is a great many young men come with me, use them Kindly! use them Kindly I say! give them good goods, give them good Goods I say! - and bad, I say! - tell your Servants to fill the measure and not to put their finger within the Brim, take pity of us, take pity of us, I say! - we come a Long way to See you, the french sends for us but we will not be here, we Love the English, give us good (Brazl. tobacco) black tobacco, moist & hard twisted, Let us see itt before op'n'd', -- take pity of us, take pity of us I say! - the Guns are bad, Let us trade Light guns small in the hand, and well shap'd, with Locks that will not freeze in the winter, and Red gun cassess, (for if a gun is bad, a fine case oft'n putts it of, being great admirers of Differt. Colour's) - Let the young men have Roll tobacco cheap, Ketles thick high for the shape, and size, strong Ears, and the Baile to Lap Just upon the side, -- Give us Good measure, in cloth, -- Let us see the old measures, Do you mind me! the young men Loves you by coming to see you, take pity, take pity I say! - and give them good, they Love to see you, take pity, take pity I say! - and give them good, they Love to Dress and be fine, do you understand me!"

- from James Isham's Observations on Hudson's Bay, 1743, published by E.E. Rich (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1949): 85-87

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