How did the fur trade in the West represent an economic and social relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples?

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The fur trade in Canada began with a largely social, gift-giving relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. By the time major trading posts had opened in the West, however, there was an established economic relationship between the two. Economic, social, and military relationships often went hand in hand with the French beaver traders and their Indigenous partners.

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The Canadian fur trade began in the sixteenth century in the east of Canada as part of a primarily social relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. The Europeans needed places to store and dry their fish and gave the Native Canadians gifts of European cloth and metal to thank them for the use of their land. As reciprocal gifts, the Canadians gave fur. Reciprocal, ceremonial gift-giving and the forging of military/diplomatic alliances were always the main social aspects of the relationships between fur-traders in Canada.

By the time the Western Canadian trading posts were opened up in the seventeenth century, due to greater demand for fur in Europe, the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous traders (mainly in beaver pelts) was on a more regular economic footing. This was partly due to the scale of the trade, which had increased significantly.

However, the situation in the seventeenth century and afterwards was complicated by the matter of war. The French in particular maintained a strong social relationship with the Indigenous people, treating them as military allies and friends as well as economic partners. The Indigenous people used the goods they received from the French as ceremonial gifts for other Indigenous people, also as an aid to the formation of military pacts.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Western fur-trading posts were abandoned due to the hostilities between England and France. However, in much of the eighteenth century and in the seventeenth, military alliances went hand in hand with both economic and social relations. The social aspect of the trade diminished significantly when the British came to control the fur trade in North America and treated it as a more purely economic concern.

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