Cree, Western Woods - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Cree were basically hunters of big game, especially moose. In some areas, moose were supplemented by woodland caribou or barren-ground caribou (reindeer), and in others by white-tailed or Virginia deer. Bear were hunted and were also Ritually important. Waterfowl, geese, and ducks, were seasonally available in favored localities and flyways. Fish were apparently taken by women in the vicinity of the camps, but fishing by men did not become important until the decline of big-game populations, especially among the inhabitants of the Shield. Except for beaver, small fur-bearing animals became valuable only after the beginning of the European fur trade. The early trade introduced an increasing variety of goods. Metal items were of great value and included awls, axes, Kettles, knives, muskets, fishhooks, and other items, such as alcohol, beads, and mirrors. Blankets and cloth were introduced and became common. Cree bands became oriented to specific trading post-mission complexes. Low-cost trade goods had ended with the establishment of the Hudson's Bay Company monopoly, but toward the end of the century independent or "free traders" entered the region. In the mid-twentieth century commercial fishing was added to trapping as a basis of the cash economy.

By the mid-twentieth century, government programs induced subarctic peoples to concentrate in nucleated villages, for "administrative convenience," where the social institutions of Canadian industrial society were located. This increasingly brought an end to or weakened traditional Socioeconomic adjustments and social control mechanisms, as well as many cultural institutions; it also increased unemployment, alcohol abuse, and other social problems, leading to greater dependence upon social welfare programs.

The only aboriginally domesticated animal was the dog, used in hunting or as a pack animal. By the end of the nineteenth century, dog teams were increasingly used for hauling toboggans. In some areas on the southern margins of the Forest, horses came into use as pack animals, saddle horses, and draft animals, until they were replaced by motorized toboggans and pickup trucks.

Industrial Arts. The women were expert in preparing hides and making clothing, storage bags, lodge coverings, and other items. They also made baskets of birchbark and were potters until ceramics were replaced by metal. Men made weapons, showshoes, and birchbark canoes.

Trade. There was probably trade between friendly Algonkian-speaking bands in prehistoric times, although the archaeological record is incomplete. With the establishment of trading centers on the Great Lakes and Hudson and James bays, some Cree were employed seasonally as "home-guard" Indians, hunting, fishing, and carrying messages between forts. Others became middlemen, bringing furs to the traders and trade goods to the Indians of the interior. This phase lasted until the trading companies expanded throughout the forest. Trade was so important that many bands were oriented toward specific posts, and some new bands came into existence around such places.

Division of Labor. Men were responsible for hunting, trapping, fishing with nets, and traveling to the trading posts. Women were responsible for processing the game, preparing food and hides, making clothing and other items such as baskets, and caring for girls and small boys. Shamans were Usually men, and they were concerned with ritual, while female shamans were often skilled in the use of herbal medicine. As a result of concentration in villages and the decline of traditional activities, this division of labor is disappearing and new patterns may be emerging.


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