In what ways do the readings by Ray, Carlos and Lewis, and
Fisher reveal economic "agency" on the part of aboriginal
people during the colonial period? Provide examples. Were
your prior beliefs confirmed or contradicted? In what ways?
Prior to the readings, I believed the aboriginal people definitely
had a capable influence as an economic “agency”, but the extent of
which was unclear. Although slightly undereducated in the details it is
common practice for one to imagine the European settlers completely
ransacking the aboriginal people in historic Canada. Seemingly proven
that the popular premise was otherwise false; Ray, Carlos and Lewis,
and Fisher have provided enough evidence to allow me to confirm that
the aboriginal people were indeed at a price setting vantage point and
were in fact an ironclad-minded group.
In Ray’s article he discusses that the indians endured hardship
that diminished their desire to travel to trade with the York Factory.
Several compromises or mere forfeiture were/was made by the York
Factory to give the Indians the upper hand in the fur trade in the
seventeen and eighteenth century, especially the Assiniboine and Cree
Middlemen. This upper hand was most definitely put into play
aggressively while these two tribes excluded the other native groups
out of the settler’s trading circle to encourage a monopoly. On top, it
seemed the aboriginals were not easily susceptible to the fluctuating
trade rate requests of the York Factory. The fact that ‘Indians force the
traders to bargain within their own terms of reference’ is paramount in
how the cards were really played in the 17th and 18th century.
Looking at Carlos and Lewis’ article it can be incisively seen that
there is congruency in a sense that the aboriginal people held a vastly
influential economic agent position but we can also deduct that
through the laws of economics unfolding through time, the European
traders did in fact also have the ability to sway trade on their own
accord. The supports claim that rival European groups sent the prices
of beaver up resulting in the increased benefit of Indian trade of furs
thus further resulting in the depletion of said fur abundance. Seeing
that the increase in demand of furs also led to the price of furs
growing, the Indian reacted in a way that was relatively favorable to
the European traders. Without shooting off on a tangent Fisher’s article was much more
compliant of the ideas provided by Ray. It is obvious that the
aboriginals, with their ability to be tough-minded manipulators of
competition. “They forced prices upwards, particularly at places often
visited by traders”. The potential power the Indians had was
tremendous due to the sheer amount of demand the furs conjured
among the traders. The monopoly that Ray noted in his article is also
discussed by Fisher. The aboriginal people employed tactics like
dragging on negotiations for extended periods of time to pressure the
Europeans to twist to their bidding.
After the insight provided by these three articles, it is fairly
agreeable that the aboriginal people knew more about trade than what
they are and were taken granted for.
The aboriginal people exhibited a impressive take on trade and
manifested a strong knowledge of trading.
Through Ray, Carlos and Lewis, and Fisher's articles, it is obvious that
the aboriginal people had much more economic agency than what we
think they had. Even though the aboriginals did not have sophisticated
market-oriented enterprise like the Hudson's Bay Company, but they
had their own barter economy that they used to gain monopoly power
over trade with the Europeans.
Ray states that "it was the combination of distance, hardships
experienced in the past, and the abandonment of canoes many inland
bands that played into the hands of the Assiniboine and Cree
middlemen. By playing them up, and using intimidation as necessary,
they were able to hold a virtual monopoly on the trade at York Factory
during most of the eighteenth century". This shows that the Cree and
Assiniboine prevented other tribes from trading with the Europeans to
ensure their monopoly power. This not only benefited the two tribes,
but also gave them the ultimate power in this trading relationship. The
Europeans had to accommodate the Indians' needs like coming up with
the made beaver (MB) to keep a record of their barter trade. Carlos and Lewis' argument focused more on the price of furs supplied
to the Europeans. They argued that it was the competition between
European rivals that lead to the increased price of furs. Due to the
increase of price, the Indians benefited more from fur trade so they
overharvested which led to the depletion of beaver stocks.
Carlos and Fisher focused on exercising monopoly power over open
resources which became more limited as the Indians increased the
supply or furs due to high prices. This view is different from Ray's
argument because Ray focused on as price increased for fur, supply
would decrease, which is what economic theory would usually say. But
nevertheless, all three authors mention the fact that the aboriginals
did hold agency in the fur trade.
Fisher's article focused on the Aboriginal peoples' dominance over the
fur trade and the raise of price for profit overtime. He states that "the
Indians became very tough-mined manipulators of competition. They
forced prices upwards, particularly at places often visited by traders".
Fisher states the power and capabilities the Indians had was
phenomenal due to the demand of furs. The Europeans relied on the
Indians for furs which gave them the monopoly power to increase
prices and therefore increase benefits. The agency the Aboriginals had
grew as they became more familiar with European demand for better
quality furs. They would not only increase price, but also hold off from
agreement so they can acquire better terms.
These three articles offered a completely different side of the
aboriginals then what I have learned and heard. Before I would not
connect agency to Aboriginals because they were always taken
advantage of; the Canadian government took away their land and
resources leaving them no choice. According the 3 articles, Aboriginals
were in fact the price setters and really knew how to maximize their
profits. Overall, they made me rethink about the situation Aboriginals
are in today and why it might have developed this way.
To the British and the French, Canada represented a new land with a
seemingly endless abundance of natural resources, as well as other
goods that had never been available to the European market. However,
the new territory came with existing inhabitants, the Native American
population, and exploiting these staple products and goods meant creating some type of trading relationship between both parties. This
trading system is described by Ray, Carlos and Lewis, and Fisher within
their respective articles. However, as is often the case in academia,
each author takes a unique stance - especially in terms of the
economic agency of the aboriginal people, and just who exactly yielded
the most trade influence and power.
For Ray's "Traders and Middlemen", the power was definitely in the
hands of the aboriginal people, specifically the Cree and Assiniboine
tribes. Upon erection of the York Factory, Fort Albany and Fort Prince of
Wales trading posts by the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), fur trade
between the Indian people and European settlers became a pillar of