The role of women in the fur trade society of the Canadian west 1700-1850.
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This thesis traces the evolution of the role played by Indian, mixed-blood and white women in the development of fur trade society in western Canada from about 1700 to 1850. The importance of the role played by women in the fur trade has been generally overlooked by historians of the subject but such a study provides many insights into the complex interaction which took place between European and Indian as a result of this enterprise. The men of both the Hudson's Bay and North West Companies formed liaisons with women from the various tribes of western Canada. In the English company, these unions were formed in spite of official rulings to the contrary, whereas the Canadian company actively encouraged unions between its servants and Indian women. Such alliances served to cement trade ties. Indian women performed a variety of important economic tasks vital to the functioning of the fur trade besides fulfilling the role of wife and mother left void by the absence of white women. Eventually, however, the Indian wife was to become a source of friction rather than an effective liaison between Indian and white, and by the early nineteenth century, her place was being taken by a growing number of mixed-blood women. The very child of the fur trade, the mixed-blood woman's dual heritage gave her the ideal qualifications for a fur trader's wife. It is significant that marriages contracted A la façon du pays during this period showed a marked tendency to become permanent unions. After the union of the two companies in 1821, however, the position of native women in fur trade society was threatened by two outside forces--the missionaries and white women. While the missionaries' attack on fur trade morality was to lead to a good deal of cultural dislocation, the coming of white women presented a potent threat to the prominence of mixed-blood women in fur trade society. The resulting development of social and racial tension between these two groups of women was to erupt in a divisive scandal in Red River in 1850, which symbolized the increasing ascendancy of white women in western Canadian society
AuthorsVan Kirk, Sylvia M.
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