Nelson House, Manitoba : an ethnodemographic history
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Contrary to prevalent interpretation, European contact did not necessarily lead to the depopulation of native North American societies. Conclusions concerning the depopulation of native societies are, at times, based on generalizations from specific cases of presumed contact depopulation. In many of these reports, depopulation is not properly documented. Moreover, alternate but related causal factors have not been examined; for example, European economic strategy, the socio-economic organization of the native population, and population size. Hence the conclusions are questionable. It would seem clear that native populations were seriously affected by contact. However, the problems they faced depended on the situation in which they were involved. The demographic consequences of contact were not consistently negative. A case study, a Cree population in northern Manitoba, is presented in this paper. Basic inadequancies in depopulation theory are noted in a brief history of its development. Early researchers responded to explorers', fur traders', missionaries', and Indian agents' reports which described native populations ravaged by epidemics, starvation and war. For example, in an article dealing with the extinction of the New England Indians, Sherburne Cook reported the following comments made by 17th century Europeans concerning the plight of the natives at contact: Thousands of men have lived there, which died in a great plague not long since . . . for that war had consumed Bashaba and most of the great Sagamores . . . and those that remained were sore afflicted by the plague so that the country was in a manner left void of inhabitants (1973:490). Samuel Hearne, in an account of...
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