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The Saulteaux Nation – Historical Overview

Saulteaux History to 1876
The Saulteaux people can trace their early history back to the days when their ancestors lived in the Hudson Bay area of what is now eastern Canada. Their position in the Hudson Bay region put them into contact with European explorers, Jesuit Missionaries, and traders in the early 1600s. An ongoing trading relationship developed between the Saulteaux and the Europeans, and the Saulteaux obtained European trade goods in exchange for animal pelts. This trade was extensive, and by the late 1700s European manufactured guns and metal tools had supplanted traditional Saulteaux implements.

As the fur trade depleted fur-bearing animals in the east and expanded west, into the interior of present-day Canada; the Saulteaux began a gradual migration westward with it. By the 1700s, the Saulteaux had settled around the Lake Winnipeg region of what is now the province of Manitoba. At the time, the Saulteaux began to adopt aspects of plains existence, while still maintaining a fishing and trapping lifestyle characteristic of their eastern forebears. They continued to push westward and southward, taking territory in what is now the province of Saskatchewan in Canada, and the state of Montana in the United States. The early 1800s saw the peak of the Saulteaux presence in North America, with the Saulteaux controlling a vast territory stretching across an area covering present-day Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan in Canada, and the states of Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio in the United States. The Saulteaux enjoyed a peaceful co-existence and alliance with two other main groups of First Peoples who had also pushed west with the fur trade: the Cree and the Nakoda.

Unlike the Cree and Nakoda of the plains, whose lifestyles relied on horse riding and bison hunting, the Saulteaux kept up a hybrid lifestyle of northern fur trapping and fishing, and plains bison hunting. The Saulteaux often joined local Cree and Nakoda on winter bison hunting expeditions. A decline in fur-bearing animals in the 1800s and the increased presence of European and Métis settlers in their traditional territory, forced the Saulteaux south onto the plains where they became more dependent on horseback bison hunting. Initially, they did not completely abandon the idea of mixing this plains lifestyle with that in northern parklands, hunting game, trapping, and fishing; but eventually, they came to adopt a full plains existence.

By the 1870s, the Canadian government was making a steady push westward, making treaties with First Peoples to obtain land to open up for railways, future commercial development, and settlement. Pressured by various factors, including the loss of bison herds upon which they had come to depend, and the encroaching settlement by Europeans and Métis, many Saulteaux in Saskatchewan signed Treaty 4 in 1874, with a few bands later signing Treaty 6 in 1876. Through treaties, the Saulteaux ceded most of their traditional territory and settled onto smaller land reserves surveyed by the Canadian government.

1876 and After
With their traditional way of subsistence at an end, the Saulteaux searched for ways to adapt to life on reserves. For a time, some Saulteaux attempted an agricultural existence, but poor land quality and limited access to adequate farming equipment made farming a poor alternative. Government programs were implemented on reserves to help alleviate unemployment and poverty, and Saulteaux history since the end of the Second World War has seen a gradual development of Saulteaux owned and operated business ventures.

Albers, Patricia C. “Plains Ojibwa,” in DeMallie, Raymond J. Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 3, part 1 of 2. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 2001.

The Applied History Research Group. “European Contact – Canadian Shield: Ojibwa and Cree.” Canada’s First Nations. University of Calgary. http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/firstnations/ (accessed July, 2006).

Zitzmann, Tara Rose. “Saulteaux.” E-Museum @ Minnesota State University, Mankato. http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/index.shtml (accessed July, 2006).

Canada’s Digital Collections. “The Saulteaux: Historical Background of the Saulteaux People.” A Saskatchewan Experience in a Traditional Tipi Camp. http://collections.ic.gc.ca/tipicamp/ (accessed July, 2006).

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