- Provide three chronological examples of first contact trading
relationships as presented in this chapter.
Answer: Beginning with the Norse and Dorset people circa 1000, the relationship created in that first contact was one of trade. According to the Norse, the people they called the “Skraelings” sought to exchange products of the hunt for weapons. Evidence for this relationship also stems from discovery of an Inuit figurine from the thirteenth century, which was found in Bergen, Norway.
After his 1534 arrival at what is now called the St. Lawrence River, French explorer Jacques Cartier met Indigenous men and women wearing fur clothing that he recognized would be in great demand back in Europe. From Cartier’s perspective, the Indigenous people were keen to trade such clothing for European items.
Thirdly, the story of Henry Hudson’s brief meeting with an Iynu in 1611 on the shores of James Bay is also an example of a first contact trading relationship. In that meeting, the lone Iynu demonstrated a level of economic agency; while he accepted what the English bartered in return for his animal skins, he appeared displeased and did not return to trade again.
It is important to note that while first contact trading encounters were often peaceful between groups who knew nothing of each other previously, behaviours could be misinterpreted and lead to future conflict.
- Discuss the reasons that the Beothuk resisted the European presence in their traditional territories.
Answer: Prior to contact, the Beothuk people hunted within the land and sea region of what is now called Newfoundland. Initially, when Basque fishers arrived in their territory in the early 16th century, the Beothuk did not take or tamper with the fishing gear and boats left behind over winter. However, such mutual distancing would be negatively affected by the Portuguese explorer Gaspar Corte-Real’s kidnapping of 57 Beothuks in 1500, so as to sell them into slavery. Within Indigenous society, abductions were seen as an act of war.
A further irritant developed when the shore space that European fishers took up for their drying racks were often built on sites the Beothuk used. By the 17th century, the Beothuk were raiding any European fishing gear and sites they found. The Beothuk actions, beyond that of impeding the Europeans, was also a response to the failure of the newcomers to either initiate proper diplomatic relations or compensate the local Indigenous communities for resources taken. The proper trade protocols, such as gift exchange, had not occurred.
The final stage of Beothuk resistance to the European presence was in defense of their own lives. By the latter half of the 18th century, as British settlement expanded, violence broke out between the Beothuk and settler trappers seeking the same fur and game. Raids and killings occurred on both sides. Open hunting on the Beothuk was effectively occurring by the early 19th century.
- Discuss the nature of first contacts between the Inuit and Europeans.
Answer: Although there is strong evidence of earlier contact and/or exchange, the first documented contact took place with ancestors of the modern Inuit (Thule). The Inuit had already had some interaction with the Norse; additionally, they were already familiar with European goods and items due to their extensive inland trading activities. This previous familiarity and skill with the trading process is evident in Inuit accounts of their first trade interaction with the English, which indicate that European traders so desperately wanted the fur clothing worn by the Inuit, they bargained with them to part with the clothes off their back in exchange for European garments.
Due to the Europeans’ distaste for the harsh environment of the Arctic region, there was no sustained contact or interaction for some time. As such, the Inuit way of life was left more unscathed than others who fared less well in the face of these early encounters.
It is important to note that prior to the arrival of Europeans, Indigenous Peoples were skilled traders who operated on their own terms. The impact of early first contact encounters also varied among groups. When necessary, the Inuit had the advantage of retreating into their Arctic homeland, away from the comfort of the Europeans. For many more Indigenous Peoples, a sinister outcome of these first contacts was death as European disease, such as smallpox, travelled along existing trade routes. Such diseases decimated Indigenous communities in very high numbers.