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Native People

Native People




Trade shopCulturally, Native societies, in what became the province of Alberta, practiced community building and sharing. More than just assuring people’s survival, such as donating the shares of a hunt to their less fortunate members, Native people also incorporated sharing in their trading alliances.

An archeological dig in Alberta’s Cypress Hills has excavated a campsite that was used by First Nations people for more than 8,000 years. According to archeologist Dr. Gerry Oetelaar, people have lived in Alberta for 10,800 years.

Trading among different Native groups existed long before the arrival of Europeans. For example, archaeological evidence indicates that the Assiniboine and the Cree traded fur hides and preserved meats for corn, bean, and squash with the Mandan, Arikara, and Hidatsa to the south.

Complex trading patterns among Native allies often involved travelling over long distances by well-known waterways. Cooperation, sharing, generosity, and trading were essential to community building and survival. These trading sessions could last for weeks with ceremonies and gifts exchanged before the actual trading began.

Europeans encountered a people who were accustomed to trading and sharing. Trading goods and forming kinship alliances through marriage was not a foreign concept to Native societies. For many Native groups, the arrival of Europeans meant opportunities to increase their power, trade for desired goods such as horses, gunpowder, firearms, awls, fabric, sewing needles, kettles, knives, and hatchets, and to form kinship alliances. For Europeans, the fur trade and partnerships with Native groups meant that not only could they survive in an unknown wilderness, it meant they could profit from European's ravenous appetite for fur.

Numerous accounts by early fur traders and explorers reveal that they would have died, especially during their first winter, had it not been for Native people taking them in, feeding them, protecting them – and in many instances, it had nothing to do with anticipating a material exchange.

In 1788, explorer David Thompson wrote:

I became emaciated till the berries became ripe and the kind hearted indian women brought me plenty… for my support. This was pure charity for I had nothing to give them and I was much relieved.

Charles McKenzie, who was in charge of a small post near Lac Seul, married Mary McKay, a daughter of Nor'Wester William McKay and Josette Latour. Known for her industriousness, Charles wrote his children in the early 1850s about their mother's hunting prowess and generosity.

Your Mother …is still as brisk as a Bee — She must take her hunting exercise. … I believe She snared upwards of 600 Rabbits this winter — merely to give them to the people — whose wives do not set a snare.

Generosity and sharing was reciprocal. As fur trading forts and posts were established, many would shelter and give sustenance to Native people, especially if there were kinship alliances.

Potentially, some forms of volunteer effort can put individuals into dangerous, possibly life threatening situations. For example, Treaty Natives were not compelled to enlist during World War I or World War II, yet many did volunteer and gained a widespread reputation for their sharp shooting skills.

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