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Traders, Missionaries and Explorers

These shell beads and pieces of copper were found at a site on the Highwood River in southern Alberta in 1980. The site is believed to date from about 2700 years ago. The shell and copper suggest the Pelican Lake people of the time traded widely to acquire these decorative materials. The copper would have come from the Great Lakes area, about 3000 kilometers away. The shells are not native to Alberta and would have come from the Pacific Coast.

Both archaeological evidence and the oral traditions of First Nations show that trade was a part of life in Alberta from the earliest of times. Most trade goods have long since disappeared, but some are easily traced. For example, certain types of rock used to make tools and projectile points were transported hundreds, even thousands, of kilometers. Types of obsidian, a kind of volcanic glass, and flint that came from very specific sources in what is now the northern United States or British Columbia have been found in archaeological sites throughout Alberta. Similarly copper from the Great Lakes area and shells from the Pacific coast have been found in Alberta. This indicates that very complex systems of trade existed long before any European traders arrived in what would become Alberta.

By the early 18th century First Nations throughout the western interior of North America were trading horses, furs, buffalo robes, provisions, and even European trade goods amongst themselves. Fur trade records make it clear that some Cree and Assiniboine groups had begun a very profitable trade with other Indians. They exchanged trade goods acquired at French posts in southern Manitoba or from English posts on Hudson Bay for furs and other goods produced by people unable or unwilling to make the long journey to European trading posts. In the north, a similar pattern developed. Chipewyan Dene traders took furs down to Churchill on Hudson Bay and then traded excess goods for more furs on their return to the interior. This "middleman" trade meant the first European goods to reach Alberta probably arrived more than 50 years before the first recorded visit of a European trader to the area.

Members of the Blackfoot ConfederacySome historians and archaeologists believe that traders from Quebec reached Alberta sometime before 1754. In the Blackfoot language, Europeans were called "Napikawan" or "Old Man People." French-speaking traders were called "real" or "original" old man persons, suggesting that they were the first Europeans encountered by members of the Blood, Peigan and Blackfoot Nations. However, the first recorded visit to what would become Alberta by a European trader occurred in 1754-55, when Anthony Henday met a group of people he called the "Archithinue." Most historians believe that Henday's "Archithinue" were members of the Blackfoot Confederacy, although they could have been some other Plains Indian group.

Henday's visit to Alberta is a good illustration of the role of Cree and Assiniboine traders in the interior in the mid-18th century. Henday was guided inland from York Factory by a group of Cree and Assiniboine traders led by a man named Attickasish or Attikarish. Attickasish was travelling inland in order to trade goods he and his band had purchased at York Factory for furs and other items produced by the "Archithinue." When Henday tried to convince these Plains Indians to come to York to trade, the leader of the Archithinue refused. He pointed out that they could get all the European goods they needed from traders such as Attickasish (Ateesh-ka-sees), and they had neither the time nor the canoes needed for such a long journey down to Hudson Bay to trade.

European Fur Traders reach Alberta (1778 –1795)

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