Aboriginal archery and European firearms on the Northern Great Plains and in the Central Subarctic : survival and adaptation, 1670-1870

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Bohr, Roland
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The introduction of firearms and metal arrowheads has been connected to momentous changes in North American Aboriginal subsistence activities and military relations, based on an alleged superiority of European technology over indigenous distance weapons, such as the bow and arrow. This dissertation compares Aboriginal cultures on the Northwestern Great Plains (Blackfoot) and in the Central Subarctic (Swampy Cree) and their reasons for retaining indigenous technology, adopting European technology or combining the two, and the impact of these actions on their cultures and history from the early fur trade to the treaty and reservation period. In spite of their many shortcomings, muzzle-loading smoothbore firearms were of importance in altering military relations between Aboriginal peoples in both regions. However, this effect was not based simply on superiority of these weapons, but rather on the ways Aboriginal people adapted them to their own needs and employed them in combat. Due to limitations in available materials for the manufacture of bows and arrows, climate constraints and an increasing emphasis on trapping, the Swampy cree and other Subarctic peoples were more predisposed to adopt firearms. In contrast, on the Plains the increasing importance of mounted bison hunting favoured the retention of archery. Plains peoples used firearms mainly in combat, in combination with indigenous weapons. In the Subarctic firearms gradually replaced archery for big game hunting and combat, but the bow and arrow survived well into the twentieth century as a weapon to hunt small game and birds. On the Plains, in contrast, after the destruction of the bison herds both hunting and archery lost their former importance by the late 1800s.