Fur Trade


The Ojibway vastly populated the shores of Lake Superior when the Jesuits and French traders recorded contact in 1640.  An Ojibway chief by the name of Copway stated first contact with Champlain traders occurred as early as 1610.  Ongoing contact with the French missionaries and French traders during the 17th and 18th centuries had an enormous impact on the lifestyle of the Ojibway.  Early settlement brought them in proximity to the Assiniboine and Cree, and in conflict with the Dakota over territory, as they moved into the location that is present-day Northern Minnesota.
Very early the Ojibway were involved in trade, first among other Ojibway bands, and later with the fur traders.  The tools that the French traded consisted of such things as steel knives and copper kettles.  The Ojibway easily adapted the efficient tools of the French.  The previously used stone and bone utensils became necessary items.
The acceptance of the French fur trader has a social and psychological impact on the culture of the Ojibway.  The Ojibway had always hunted and trapped for survival.  They also traded among other tribes before Europeans.  Originally, the Ojibway were middlemen for the Mandan, Hidatsa and other tribes who bartered with the fur traders.  As resources became scarce, the Ojibway were forced to adopt trading furs for goods to survive.  The fur trade deepened the relationships between the Ojibway and Cree, and French traders, resulting in marriages between them.  These associations were based on a sharing of economic, social, and physical resources.  The first generations of offspring of these marriages were raised as their mother’s people.  In time, some of the children of the Frenchmen and their Ojibway and Cree wives became known as “Métis” or “Metchif.”  Contact between the French, the Europeans, and their Woodland relatives brought about many alliances during the fur trade era.  These people retained many of their tribal customs.
Chippewa Influence and Involvement in the Fur Trade
As the fur trade flourished in the first half of the seventeenth century, the Ojibway played a central role in its development.  In 1670, the English Hudson Bay Company set up posts and obtained furs directly from the Indians who had an established trade system in the Great Lakes Region.  The English were in competition with the French fur trade companies, who had trapped and traded with the Indians from as early as 1610.  This competition was over the Indian trade in the Hudson Bay and the Great Lakes and their tributaries.  A “head on” confrontation between these two countries was fueled by a swiftly diminishing supply of furs, resulting in a conflict known as the French and Indian War.
Pembina Post Established
The Red River became an arterial of travel for the trappers at the end of the 18th century.   Trapping was done along the Assiniboine and Red rivers, and all their tributaries.  The establishment of trading posts transformed the Red River into a commercial trade economy, to which many Chippewas were accustomed.
The Chippewa occupied the territory of northern Minnesota, from Red Lake, Leech Lake, Sandy Lake, Lake of the Woods, Rainy Lake, to Lake Superior and Lake Winnipeg Traverse.  The regions around these lakes became their more permanent settlements.  During the hunting/trapping season, the men canoed the Red and Assiniboine rivers and a vast number of tributaries.  The numerous trading posts along the Red River assisted in the growth of fur trade and westward movement.
During the Pembina fur trade era, the Red River Territory was overly abundant with furred animals.  In 1797, the Northwest Fur Company, from Montreal, established a major trading post where the Red River and Pembina River joined.  This was the first post at Pembina.  Peter Grant was the first proprietor, and Charles Jean Baptist Chaboillez of the North West Company was the second.  Chaboillez operated his post from 1797 through 1798 where he had dealings with about 80 Chippewas from the Red, Rainy, Leech and Sandy lakes area.  Chaboillezs’ post was one of three established along the Red River.  The second post was located at the mouth of the Red River and was operated by the Hudson Bay Company.  The North West Company set a post at the junction of the Forest (Salt) and Red rivers.
A man named Alexander Henry opened a second post at Pembina three years later.  He operated the post at this site from 1801-1805, and recorded his dealings.  He also set up many sub-posts along the Red River, depending on the supply of furs in each area.  The post was the focal point of trade in the middle Red River region.  Pembina became the chief Northwest Company trading post along the Red and Assiniboine rivers.   The number of Chippewas who traded in the area increased each year, but the supply of fur was rapidly diminishing.
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