The Hudson Bay Lowland Cree in the fur trade to 1821 : a study in historical geography

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Lytwyn, Victor P.
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This is a study of the indigenous people of the Hudson Bay Lowlands, known as the Lowland Cree. The time period is coincident with the European fur trade period in the region from about 1670 to 1821. A review of the archaeological literature has also been included to establish that Aboriginal people occupied the region long before Europeans arrived. The fact that the Lowland Cree lived in the Hudson Bay Lowlands before the arrival of European fur traders is an important element in understanding developments in the post-European contact period. It is also important because it is contrary to the prevailing view in the literature that the resources within the region could not support Aboriginal people without assistance from the European traders. The methodological framework for the study is consistent with traditional approaches in historical geography. A central theme is the relationship between the Lowland Cree and the natural environment. The examination of the human/land interface in the Hudson Bay Lowlands has shown that these people adapted successfully to developments in the fur trade until major transformations to the natural resource base occurred in the late 18th and early 19th century. Contrary to the prevailing view in the literature, most Lowland Cree did not become quickly dependent on the European fur traders. Until the late 18th century many Lowland Cree favoured traditional pursuits over involvement in the commercial trade and wage labour activities. The smallpox epidemic in 1782-83 was a major factor in bringing the Lowland Cree into a more intensive involvement in the fur trade. Contributing to the post-smallpox adaptations among the Lowland Cree was the rapid expansion of the Hudson's Bay Company's inland trading networks. Unusual climatic conditions also played a role in reducing the availability of traditional subsistence and commercial resources. The decline in the caribou population was especially critical in prompting many Lowland Cree to migrate outside of the their traditional homelands. By 1821, the competitive fur trade period had ended throughout much of the Canadian subarctic, and monopoly conditions provided a check against major fur trade developments.