The tipi was the principle form of shelter for nomadic
Natives. Besides making tipis, Native women erected them and took them
down. Additionally, they were responsible for transporting supplies and
tipis from camp to camp. Logically, shelter had to be highly portable
Native and Métis women often acted as guides, interpreters, and
sometimes paddlers for fur traders and explorers so they were available
to erect shelters. What happened when men were travelling and camping
without women? There are numerous photographs of Métis tripmen (men who
rowed York boats), European fur traders, and Métis buffalo hunters
sitting around small campsites with a tipi or two in view. It leaves one
to conclude that when left to their own devices, men knew how to erect
tipis and other wilderness survival shelters such as a lean-to.
Using European stationary building techniques, posts, forts,
missions, churches, and settlements were constructed. Native and Métis
women who had a union or were married to Company fur traders commonly
lived in forts or posts with their families and with company personnel
and their families. Sometimes, for months at a time, posts also
harboured the ill or the starving.
Large forts such as Fort Edmonton, were like walled villages, with
log houses, a classroom, and in the case of Chief Factor Rowand, a
baronial mansion was built to indicate his immense status.
While the prejudices of the traders resulted in their
exaggerating the degradation of Indian women, there can be no doubt
that on a material level, life in a fur-trade post offered an Indian
woman an easier existence.
In the first place, she now had a much more sedentary routine.
With a stationary home, the Indian woman was no longer required to
act as a beast of burden, hauling or carrying the accoutrements of
camp from place to place. In fur-trade society, the unenviable role
of carrier was assumed by the engage or servant. The men at the fort
were responsible for providing firewood and water, although the
women might help. In contrast to Indian practice, the women of the
fort were not sent out to fetch home the produce of the hunt. The
wife of a bourgeois, benefiting from her husband's rank, enjoyed a
privileged status as "la premiere femme de ce pays. She was carried
in and out of the canoe and could expect to have all her baggage
portaged by a voyageur.
Early Métis Homes