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The Fur Trade and its Consequences

The Côte-Nord's Innu families would next build ties with French merchants involved in the fur trade. A long tradition of exchanges between the groups in place began with the establishment of the first permanent trading post in Tadoussac in 1599, which eventually failed. Many posts, whose importance and longevity would vary, were established at the mouths of several of the region’s rivers, such as the Manicouagan, Godbout, Moisie, Mingan, Natashquan, etc.

An increasing dependency on imported products such as iron, knives, cauldrons, rifles and ammunition, fabric, flour and other grains, tea, tobacco and alcohol, would have consequences on the Innu way of life. Trappers and hunters began to devote more time and energy to pursuing species such as marten, mink or beaver, whose economic value surpassed their caloric value. Finally, the desire, if not the necessity, to meet traders at posts located at the mouths of rivers most certainly modified many families' traditional habits.

The fur trade led the Innu from subsistence living to a mixed economy of subsistence and trade. Within this framework, Amerindians were confronted with mainly foreign realities: technological innovations (traps and rifles, boats) and techniques (preparation of hides), innovations in clothing (fabrics), trade (loans and credit, exchange values), food and other goods (flour, sugar, tea, tobacco, alcohol).

Among the consequences of the fur trade, mention should be made of those affecting traditional social organization, as shown by the emergence of specialists such as captains and middlemen, or trading post employees, closely tied to the smooth running of such posts.

As well, in spite of themselves, families became more or less captive of certain posts, often under obligation to their managers because of debts and advances granted at the outset of the trapping season. And what of the commercial competition that most certainly created disparities among many families?

Finally, another negative outcome of socializing between Native and European or Euro-Canadian populations was the propagation of viruses and illnesses against which the former had no immunity, resulting in a high mortality rates in certain periods and posts.

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