The north-western homelands and the bloody trade

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In order to begin properly I must once again go back in time.

In the time before the chaos of the fur trade reached the region between Lake Superior and the Plains the people who occupied this region were in two language groups. The people on the south spoke the dialects of the Sioux and the people on the north spoke various Algonquian dialects.

The Algonquian people lived within autonomous bands of less than twenty souls led by a headman or chief hunter and his band, consisting of his brothers, sons and sons-in-law, and their families.

During the summer months the people gathered at favourite fishing stations to fish. From their primary fishing station the bands made trips to hunt local sturgeon, bison or woodland caribou depending on the locale.

In the winter the family bands dispersed to lower the pressure on the resources in any one region.

While Ojibwa bands were principally found nearer Lake Superior there was a general mixing of the Algonquian bands further west and a trend to more Cree speakers on the northward side.

For the most part the Dakota remained south of the Rainy River Traverse, however, one Sioux tribe called the Assiniboine had moved northward into the Red River Valley where they co  existed with the Cree and Monsoni Ojibwa.

There appears to have been a constant interchange trade in goods and occasional intermarriage between the bands throughout the region on the north side of the traverse, especially among the Algonquians but also including the Assiniboine.

The Invader's historical records for the region give the following names to the Algonquians : Cree, Muskego, Monsoni, Sonnont, Snake, Saulteaux, Chippeway, Ojibwa and Bungee.

These names and variants of them have caused a great deal of speculation by historians over the years.

This, however, was not a problem that the people had for they understood human relationships in terms of kinship, family by family, band by band, tribe by tribe, nation by nation. It was a matter of brothers, sisters and cousins. Therefore when the great plagues of the invaders swept through these communities and carried away their relatives the survivors gathered in the orphans and raised them as their own.

In a generation the grand children might be called Cree by the French but their grandfathers could just as easily been Sonnont or perhaps Muskego.

Later when the Ojibwa traders visited the region some individuals and indeed whole families remained and intermarried with the people already there. Their descendants also had many grandmothers from the earlier people.

When the plagues struck, some of the larger groups such as the western Cree who had resided near the Turtle Mountains, consolidated into fewer bands. Then as they and their Assiniboine neighbours adapted to Plains hunting they gradually moved further west until only the Fox's band remained in the region at the Calling River.

Therefore, as I study this part of their history I find that each and everyone living today have Algonquian ancestors who lived elsewhere but they also have ancestors that lived here thousands of years ago.

At first it was the Ojibwa traders, the Ottawa, who brought European goods west of the Great Lakes as they used the already established trade network.

Travelling by canoe through the long traverse between the Great Lakes and the Lakes of the Prairie Parklands they traded with the people at the fishing stations or made agreements with them to guide them on the great voyage east to the European trading posts the next season.

When the English appeared on the Nelson and Albany Rivers some of the Cree also became middlemen trading with the people of the Western Lakes and Parklands.

As I pick up the chronology of my study again this Indian trading system was being overrun by European drug peddlers

Before I proceed I feel I should warn the reader that this period is a particularly painful one, for in it I will describe the invader's trade in the drug, alcohol, at its devastating worst. Yet in the end it too is part of their triumph for they are here to say we survived even this!

As I begin I are reminded that the coca leaf was already in use by the Indian medicine men and women of south America for medicinal use but because of the corruption of the invader's society the beneficial coca was degenerated first into cocaine and in the present day into the more easily transported "crack".

The drug of choice used by the fur pedlars was alcohol. The French used brandy which they could make cheaply out of poor quality wines. The English used rum which was a cheap by product of the West Indies sugar trade.

In order to reduce the cost of transportation the peddlers had the alcohol over-proofed.

Proof spirits which is the standard of all alcoholic beverages means that the alcohol is one half of the volume, ie: half water, half alcohol. By over distilling the liquid the pedlars reduced the amount of water in the fluid. The result was called a high wine or a fluid that is more than one half alcohol. When the pusher got his high wines to his fur trading post he not only added enough water to bring it back to "proof spirit", he could not resist adulterating it with more water. Then in order to cover-up the adulteration the traders added cut up pods of capsicum or drops of tincture of capsicum, both of which I call cayenne pepper, into the mixture. But there were many other ways the pedlars used to adulterate liquor.

The Yankee New York pedlars like Solomon who traded out of Detroit were extremely adroit at the practice. But the most common concoctions included one or more of pepper, tobacco juice and laudanum which was a derivative of another drug, opium.

The Hudson's Bay Company had their own secret recipe for adulterating the alcohol. That recipe is still in the HBC archives in Winnipeg.

The mixture was then used to drug the Indians who had come into trade by giving them a drink as a “food” present before they made the deal for his furs.

It is interesting to note how self  righteous and outraged the American and Canadian public are today when their young people are deliberately subjected to a drug trade. The Indian people have been subjected to its horrors for five hundred years and are still fighting it.
Back in the day the first Frenchman to appear with a license to trade from the French crown who deliberately interfered with Ojibwa trading agreements with the western tribes was Du Luth. When he arrived the Ojibwa were trading with the Dakota west and south-west of Lake Superior. Initially, because he did not know the region, Du Luth offered lucrative partnerships to some of the Ojibwa Ottawa.

The French were good at lying and their historical records are full of it: The greatest lie of all was that the Ojibwa and Dakota were hereditary enemies and that they, the French, made all the attempts to make the peace. In fact, at the time in question the Dakota, Saulteaux and Cree were partners in a traditional trading peace. Nevertheless the French went so far as to hold feasts for the trading partners and called them Peace Conferences. At Indian inter-tribal peace councils there was food, dancing and the exchange of gifts, but no drugs. The French on the other hand always brought brandy to their "peace" conferences and inevitably there was trouble. It was all part of the French game of business. In the first place the French still had the same major handicap they always had. That was the fact that their goods were shoddy and they were even more expensive than the English were;
(French) ( English)
For 8 lbs powder 4 beaver 1 Beaver

40 lbs lead 3 beaver 1 beaver

1 gun 5 beaver 2 beaver
(Neill 1885:415)
The Ojibwa on the other hand had access to the English goods on the Bay shore or through the Iroquois to Albany. It was these cheaper and better goods that made their trade with the Dakota possible.

Therefore in order to over come this business handicap the French had to destroy the Ojibwa peace with the Iroquois in the east and in the west they had to destroy the Ojibwa trade with the Dakota.

What I found incredible is the interesting nature of French greed. After all, the Ojibwa Ottawa only traded for what they needed that season. It was the French who sought to accumulate wealth by taking over the entire trade.
In 1684 Daniel Greysolon, Sieu de Lhut, built an establishment on Lake Nipigon. In September of the same year, he wrote to Governor La Barre that the following people had promised to trade with him in the spring at the lower end of Lake Nipigon: the Klistinos, the Assenepolacs, the people of the Sapenere, the Openens Dacheling, the Outaucouhys, and Tabitibis which comprise all the nations which are to the west of the Northern Sea!' (Burpee 1927:47n). 7
By 1684, the Cree-Assiniboine trading alliance was using the alternative supply of European trade goods, and some 300 canoes (approximately 750 men) were making the trip to the Bay (Ray 1974:13).

The English were the major source of fire arms, which the Cree-Assiniboine used to force their way westward into fresh hunting territory.
When he penetrated the interior in 1688, Jacques de Noyon met the Assiniboine and the Cree in the vicinity of Rainy Lake. He calls Rainy Lake, Lac des Cristinaux, and Lake of the Woods, Lac des Assiniboils.
The Saulteaux are reported by Charles Oubert de la Chesnaye to be as far west along the north shore of Lake Superior as the Pic River by 1695 (Hickerson 1970:21). Their movement westward was to continue. The Southern Ojibwa (Chippewa) had been at La Pointe on the south shore since 1692 (Burpee 1927:135n). They were also destined to have to move westward as the region is exhausted by the European trade.
As I have noted the manipulation of the French drew the Ojibwa and the Iroquois into a war in which the Ojibwa expelled the Iroquois from the north side of the Lower Lakes. That same year of 1696, however, the King of France ordered all the Upper Lakes posts closed and the second part of the French merchant's plan was postponed.

The Ojibwa travel then increased on the northern route to Hudson Bay and the Ojibwa Ottawa had, by 1700, re-established trading relations with the Dakota. To accommodate the increase in trading that followed, the four Ojibwa villages at Chequamegon and Keweenaw on the south shore of Lake Superior, increased the size of their corn crops to accommodate the transportation needs of the long trading voyages.

As the arrangement between them developed the Ojibwa and Dakota began to intermarry and hunting privileges for some Ojibwa bands extended to the hunting of buffalo on the Lakota hunting grounds. The success of this relationship increased prosperity and led to an increase in the south shore Ojibwa agricultural population.

During the Royal ban on trade in the interior some cour-de-bois such as Langlade who were intermarried with the Ojibwa had remained in the interior. His mixed  blood son became a recognized War chief on the Upper Lakes. But for the most part the trade was in Ojibwa hands for twenty years. Twenty years of peace and inter-tribal harmony.
Then the French appeared again and by-passed the Ojibwa using the usual tactics to steal the Dakota trade. This caused a chain reaction in the region. First the loss of trade broke the reciprocal agreements and the Ojibwa lost their hunting privileges on Dakota lands. Therefore because of the increased population in the lake shore villages local food resources were put under immediate stress.

The French trade in slaves and alcohol (Burpee 1927:108, 173, 188) increased and soon war broke out between the Cree, Monsoni, Assiniboine and the Dakota along the Rainy River traverse.

Typical of the French gangsters who provoked these conflicts was Varrenes a slave and arms dealer.

During the conflict he had created he sold arms to the Monsoni and Cree and sent his son to war on their side. He then obtained their captives for the French Canada slave market. In the mean time other Frenchmen were doing the same among the Dakota.

At the time some of the Lake superior Ojibwa traders were still managing to trade with Dakota as far north as Leech Lake and Red Lake but the French intervention in the north quickly dragged them into another inter-tribal conflict.
With the continual spread of the Northern Ojibwa into the interior north and west of the Pic River, the French came into contact with the western Crees trading into Albany.

Given that the Albany route had the potential of being dangerous, although it was still used for major goods such as guns the Cree-Assiniboine were open to the advent of direct French trade into their territory, but slowly and not beyond.

The first step was to agree with La Verendrye at Kamanistikwia in 1729, to trade to the south and west of Nipigon (Burpee 1927:62).

In 1730, two Cree Chiefs, Lefaye and Petit Jour, and Pako, Chief of the Lake Nipigon Indians, described the Assiniboine and the Sioux to La Verendrye.

From this description it appears to me that, in the main, the Assiniboine west and south of Lake Winnipeg at this time were grassland-adapted (Burpee 1927:44 4S).

This would fit the Cree-Assiniboine into the Grassland-Parkland-Boreal Forest utilization pattern as viewed by Ray.

About this time, an individual called "Auchagah" made a map for La Verendrye which indicates that he was familiar with the country from Lake Superior west to the Assiniboine River - Red River – south Lake Winnipeg basin.

It was also in 1730 that La Verendrye first mentioned the Cree Chief La Marteblanche, who resided at this time near the entrance of the Winnipeg River at Lake of the Woods (Burpee 1927).

At the council with La Verendrye of December 31, 1733, there were six chiefs from the southern part of Lake Winnipeg. Two were Cree and four were Assiniboine. La Verendrye tells us that the nephew of one of the Cree chiefs spoke for the Cree. This individual, according to La Verendrye, stated that there were seven villages (presumably of Cree), the smallest being 100 cabins, the largest 800 - 900 (Burpee 1927:146 149).

By even conservative estimates, these numbers for a village would indicate a large, readily accessible food resource, such as wild rice, whitefish or bison all of which were available within the region of the South lake Winnipeg-Red River basin.

La Verendrye stated in 1733 at Fort St. Charles, Lake of the Woods) that "we are with the Cree and near the Assiniboine" (Burpee 1927: 96).

As early as 1730, La Verendrye had been told that the right bank of the Winnipeg River was held by the Cree, while the left was inhabited by the Assiniboine (Burpee 1927:59 60).

The evidence would seem to indicate that the Cree utilized the Boreal Forest during the summer, living near the rice lakes and the rivers. In the autumn they moved down the rivers such as the English, Oiseau, and Maskwa to the Winnipeg, where they could move to Lake of the Woods or Traverse Bay on Lake Winnipeg to utilize the white fishery. Then, as the snow approached, they had access from the Winnipeg River basin to the parklands through Lake Winnipeg - Red River, the Whitemouth or Savanne Portage on Lake of the Woods.
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