Economic Benefits

Intermarriage between fur traders and Aboriginal women was seen as beneficial to both the fur trading companies and native tribes. At first, the fur trade companies, particularly the Hudson's Bay Company, were opposed to intermarriage; however, they soon realized that there were many advantages and rules were relaxed. Similarly, most native tribes viewed intermarriage as advantageous to their trading relations with the companies and daughters were sometimes reserved for the purpose of offering them as wives to fur traders. The most important advantage for both parties was that intermarriages created an important economic tie.

Most native tribes viewed intermarriage as a social bond that helped cement economic relations with the traders. In return for allowing traders to marry their women they expected special privileges such as free access to posts and provisions. Similarly, a trader expected that his marriage into a tribe would mean free and easy trade with that tribe. Therefore, intermarriages created bonds of trust between traders and tribes, which, in an environment often riddled with tension and mistrust, was important to economic relations between the two parties.

Intermarriage was also beneficial to the fur-trading companies because Aboriginal women were an integral part of the labour force within the forts. They were already familiar with many of the methods and supplies necessary for survival in the Canadian wilderness. For instance, they were skilled at making moccasins, the most practical footwear of the wilderness, and other leather and fur garments. They helped make snowshoes, which were necessary for winter travel, and canoes, particularly in collecting tree gum for the waterproofing and repairs of the canoe. Aboriginal women knew how to make pemmican, a compacted slab of buffalo meat and fat that kept well and took up little space and, thus, a food staple of travelling traders. Apart from these domestic chores, aboriginal wives acted as interpreters and guides for their husbands in their frequent travelling expeditions. For example, the geographer and trader, David Thompson, said of his mixed blood wife, Charlotte Small:

"My lovely wife is the blood of these people [the Cree], speaking their language and well educated in the English language which gives me a great advantage." 1

Also, they acted as teachers of native languages and customs - knowledge that helped traders establish friendly relations with the tribes.


Sources:

Millar, Nancy. Once Upon a Wedding. Calgary: Bayeux Arts, 2000.


Van Kirk, Sylvia. Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur Trade Society, 1670-1870. Winnipeg: Watson & Dwyer Publishing, 1980.

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Heritage Trails #479 - Life as a Fur Trader's Wife

Find out what roles Aboriginal women played during the fur trade era and why the contributions they made were so vital to the success of the fur trade.

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