The Indians were the main focus of the history of New France, and
influenced the Europeans in the period before 1663. The Indians, being
numerous compared with the Europeans, came into frequent contact with them.
The Indians and Europeans traded items with one another, which led to
various events and actions that contributed greatly to the history of New
France. The Europeans who arrived after the Indians had already settled
were exposed to the native people's way of life, from which techniques for
survival were acquired. Later, the Europeans depended on the Indians, some
of whom acted as middlemen and who had items which were valuable to them.
Various Indian personalities were also observed and admired by Europeans
particularly the Jesuits.
The Native Indians were among the first people to enter North America.
They entered America through the passage of the Bering Strait, a location
which is the midpoint of Alaska and Siberia. As time passed, they settled
on various pieces of land and hunted, fished and grew crops. Alfred Bailey
mentions that, "It had been suggested that Siouans, the Iroquoians and
Algonquians were among the first to enter America."1 Before the Europeans
arrived, there were many native tribes that were already settled. By the
time Europeans arrived in North America, they found natives occupying large
amounts of land.2 The Indians helped start the history of New France.
Since the natives arrived early in North America, their population
started to increase quite rapidly. With the combination of migration as
well as the birth rate, the Indians inflated their population to a large
size. "In 1663, there were only still 3000 Europeans living in New France,
no more people than constituted a small Iroquoian tribe."3 The Indians
were in the majority before 1663.
Surrounding the area of New France there were two main native groups
who spoke different languages. These groups were the Algonquian and the
The Algonquians were primarily involved in trading and fishing. These
people remained in groups called bands, which included relatives such as
parents, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Algonquians
primarily hunted, and so would develop groups to hunt in different areas.
They travelled around frequently and would take everything they needed
while on their hunting journey. In the winter, they used snowshoes; in the
Summer, they used the canoe. The Algonquians were always moving from one
location to another; because of their hunting they never stayed in one
location for a long period of time.
The Iroquoians were mainly occupied with agriculture. This group
established themselves near land which could be farmed upon. They remained
in this area until the land was exhausted and nothing more could be
cultivated upon it. After the land was worthless it was abandoned and
another piece of land was selected upon which to plant at another location.
Their villages were known as Longhouses. These Longhouses were quite large
and supported more than five families in them. The men were mainly the
people who constructed the Longhouse. While the men were busy during the
summer, hunting, trading, or engaging in war, the women would care for the
crops. The Iroquoians helped contribute to agriculture by being one of the
first to grow crops.
While trading with the Europeans, the Indians were faced with many
instances that were devastating and other cases which helped them profit.
Trade in New France was so prominent that France decided to create a
monopoly to bring the trade under control. Two provisions had to be met:
Firstly, the private fur trading company had to
promote colonization. Secondly, it had to send
Roman Catholic missionaries to Christianize the
On the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Tadoussac, became the chief trading centre for
the Europeans. The trade route surrounding Tadoussac contained connections
from Hudson Bay to New England. Some negative aspects of the fur trade
The Fur Trade at first enriched traditional
Indian life, but later increasing competition
for pelts generated conflicts that led to the
dispersal of many Indian groups. Indian wars
grew out of long standing rivalries or
developed as a result of Indian disputes over
An outcome of trading with the Europeans that devastated the Indians,
was the epidemics which the Europeans presented. These epidemics destroyed
a large percentage of the Indian population, which they did not deserve and
which were calamitous to the population.
Certain groups, such as the Hurons, abandoned agriculture and focused
on trading. This reveals that trading had an enormous impact on Indians
and their heritage. The Indians were still in control of exchanging furs,
since Indians controlled the supply of beaver pelt sought by the Dutch and
French traders, who waited at ports on Hudson Bay or St. Lawrence River for
Indians to bring them in.6
Some Trading relationships continued for a long time and other
affiliations did not last long at all. The trading relationships which
took place included:
French and Hurons traded till 1649, trading
between Dutch and Iroquois lasted till 1664,
between the French and Ottawas after 1650, and
trading between the English and Iroquois after
This illustrates that trading relations involving Hurons were practically
diminished soon after the Europeans had arrived. Regardless of the
misfortunes that occurred, trading benefitted both the Indians and the
During the fur trade some Indians played the role of the middlemen,
helping out with the flow of the trade. These middlemen had located
themselves so they could cover the areas where tremendous amounts of the
trading done. The Hurons, who were middlemen, mainly traded with the
Algonquians and the French. The Hurons traded furs and in their canoes
transported native as well as European goods. The middlemen had some
influence on the Europeans, for the reason that after the fall of Huronia,
the Coureurs de Bois took over the role of the middlemen. These Coureurs de
Bois stayed and lived with the Algonquians who helped them carry out their
role effectively. Algonquians at some point also played the role of
middlemen while they were exchanging goods with the Dutch. The middlemen
were helpful in controlling the trading that developed in New France, and
the Indians effectively carried out their roles competently.
During the fur trade many items were traded between the Indians and
the Europeans. The main item of trade that the Europeans desired from the
Indians was fur. Conversely, the main article sought by the Indians from
the Europeans were metal goods. In 1534, the fur trade industry became the
most popular and dominant industry in New France. For the Europeans, the
most popular method to accumulate furs was to trade with the Indians. In
return for furs, Indians acquired European tools which made their work
easier and more productive. These tools also lasted longer and could be
transported easily because of their light weight. The particular items
traded that were of use to the Indians were as follows: iron axes,
hatchets, which were useful outdoors and for construction; cooking pots,
steel knives, and needles helped the Indian women who cooked and sew.
Another item which had a large impact was the kettle: "The Kettle was the
most revolutionary article which came within the sphere of the women."8
Foodstuffs and clothing were also acquired from the Europeans. Among the
clothing were summer capes which the Europeans wore, and for the winter,
blankets for beds were traded for furs.9 Other articles which were traded
but did not have a positive impact on the Indians were liquor and tobacco.
In 1640 Dutch traders sold guns to Mohawks, and private traders sold guns
to the Iroquois for furs.10 These items were particularly useful when in
combat against the enemy, and they were more powerful than any other
weapons the Indians were accustomed to. Items that were traded, especially
metal goods, helped the Indians with their way of life and made their tasks
Christianization of the Indians was a laborious task, but the effort
of the Jesuits led to some successful outcomes. Champlain had considered
that the task of converting Indians was of equal importance as gathering
wealth in the Fur Trade or extending French influence in North America.11
The first missionaries who attempted to convert the Indians were the
Recollets. They tried to make the Indians adapt to the European lifestyles
with great effort, but were quite unsuccessful. A reason for their
difficulty in converting the Indians was that there was a language barrier
which separated the two. To overcome this barrier, the Jesuits who
followed, had to learn the native tongue. Similarities in religious
beliefs between both the Indians and the Jesuits were helpful in converting
the Indians, since these beliefs helped the Indians relate to the
missionaries' sermons, and the Indians were influenced by the lectures that
they addressed. The Jesuits, while staying with the Indians during the
process of conversion to Christianity, were required to adapt to the
Indians' ways of life and saw many qualities of Indians, some of which the
priests admired and found virtuous. In conflict with the missionaries,
some native groups were very fearful of the Jesuits. The reason was that
people who were baptized, fell ill and soon died. This view led them to
believe that the Jesuits were associated with all the misfortunes and evil
which they feared. The Jesuit's endless attempts to Christianize the
Indians were nevertheless a significant gesture which clearly influenced
the Indians and their ways of life.
Indians possessed qualities which were superior in helping them
survive and that Europeans found very appealing. The Indians had good
experience in the resources available which helped in adapting to the
country. One articulate characteristic was that they "Highly valued
politeness and good manners in dealing with one another."12 Indians tried
not to force a person into actions because "It was immoral to make someone
do something against his will."13 If there was plenty of food, sharing was
encouraged: "Indians considered it wrong to let someone starve while others
had more than they needed."14 Therefore the Indians maintained equality
among all individuals and tried to conform with other fellow human beings.
On the topic of diseases, A.G. Bailey states, "The early travellers found
that certain ailments which were current among Europeans at the time were
absent from the native society. The diseases suffered by the Indians were
quite few in number."15 This demonstrates that the Indians were healthy and
adapted well to their environment. The Indians could survive the ruthless
climate surrounding them, and even developed snowshoes to help them endure
the terrain when it was covered with snow. R.J. Surtees claims that, "In
virtually all instances, the Indians greeted newcomers with friendship,
guidance and assistance."16 That is a good example of their unselfish and
invitingly friendly attitude to other humans, even if they were of a
different creed. In agriculture, "These natives, even though they seemed
so primitive, had mastered agriculture in corn, melon, squash, and beans.
They had achieved hunting skills with crude weapons and appeared robust
enough."17 Even though they did not have very good tools, they still made
the most of whatever they had and used it to their full advantage. The
natives possessed qualities and traits which are essential for survival in
demanding conditions and for developing strong relationships.
While trading with the Europeans, the Indians became almost possessed
by the European goods they desired. "With the decline in food resources in
the country, the Eastern Algonquians lost a measure of self-reliance and
became increasingly dependent upon Europeans for their supplies."18 Since
the Europeans had superior metal items, the craving of the Indians would
force them to go to the Europeans to acquire them: "Indians didn't have
copper, iron, hemp, wood or manufactured articles and resorted to the
French for them."19 The European goods helped the Indians out by making
their tasks easier to cope with so that "They grew dependent on goods and
allied with whites, who could provide for them."20 This explains how the
Indians lost some of their heritage by relying too heavily on the European
The Europeans greatly depended on the Indians as the Indians
contributed to the Europeans survival in a land which was new to them.
R.J. Surtees claims that "Iroquois people probably saved Cartier's party
from complete extinction during the winter of 1535 and 1536, by teaching
the Frenchmen a cure for scurvy."21 The Indians, being the only other
human beings and the most welcoming in New France, were the only ones who
could help the perplexed Frenchmen: "Indians were the only available
teacher who could show the newcomer how to live in a harsh climate, to
forage for food, paddle and build a canoe, to travel on snowshoes and to
build shelters."22 In agriculture, the Indians introduced Europeans to
plants such as potatoes, corn, peanuts, pumpkins, peppers, tomatoes, and
beans.23 Because the Indians had furs that the Europeans desires so
critically, "Both French and Dutch traders tried to conduct themselves in a
manner that would please the Indians and encourage the Indians to trade"24
This statement clearly displays that the Indians were the main motive for
trading, and without them there would not have been any trade taking place
at all in New France. As the Indians were superior in hunting, the French
needed assistance from the Indians, who did help them. "The French were
dependent on native food supply, especially game, in pursuit of which they
were novices."25 According to some historians,
As late as 1643, Quebec was almost entirely
dependent on Indians hunting for its meat
supply. Algonquians taught the French how to
grow corn, beans, pumpkins, and squash. From
the Indians, they learned how to make maple
sugar and gather wild berries. Algonquians
also trained the first Frenchmen how to
survive the interior.26
The native people were independent in agriculture as well as survival, but
still helped the disoriented Europeans with some of their skills."The
Indians taught Europeans how to hunt, travel, farm and subsist in their new
Prior to 1663, the Indians clearly influenced the Europeans and the
history of New France. With fur as their main trading item, they obtained
European goods which they desired that helped make their everyday lives
easier. Using techniques of survival in the outdoors, they clearly set a
trend for the Europeans to follow, so that they could reside in this
unpredictable country. The Europeans, soon after discovering the natives,
depended on them as their source of various techniques which were mandatory
for survival, such as hunting for food. The Indians were the primary,
contributing factor to the history of New France and without their
influence, Europeans could not have progressed to where they are at this
point in Canada.
1. Alfred G. Bailey, The Conflict of European and
Eastern Algonkian Cultures (University of Toronto Press,
2. Bruce G. Trigger. The Indians and the Heroic Age of
New France (Canadian Historical Review-Booklet 30, 1978),
3. Bruce G. Trigger. Natives and Newcomers (McGill-Queens
University Press, 1985),p.17.
4. R.D. Francis, Richard Jones, Donald B. Smith, Origins:
Canadian History To Confederation (Holt, Rinehart and
Winston of Canada, Limited, 1988),p.41.
5. R.J. Surtees, The Original People (Holt, Rinehart and
Winston of Canada, Limited,1971),p.22.
6. Ibid., p.19.
7. Ibid., p.20.
8. Bailey, The Conflict of European and Eastern Algonkian
9. Ibid., p.12.
10. Trigger, The Indians and the Heroic Age Of New
11. Surtees, The Original People, p.34.
12. Trigger, The Indians and the Heroic Age of New
13. Ibid., p.6.
14. Ibid., p.6.
15. Bailey, Conflict of European and Eastern Algonkian
16. Surtees, The Original People, ix.
17. Ibid., p.1.
18. Bailey, Conflict of European and Eastern Algonkian
19. Ibid., p.11.
20. Surtees, The Original People, p.21.
21. Ibid., ix.
22. Ibid., p.19.
23. Ibid., p.19.
24. Trigger, Indians and the Heroic Age of New France,
25. Bailey, Conflict of Europeans and Eastern Algonkian
26. Francis, Jones, Smith, Origins : Canadian History To
27. Surtees, The Original People, p.ix.
Bailey, A.G. The Conflict of European and Eastern
Algonkian Cultures. Toronto. 1969.
Francis, R.D., Jones Richard, Smith D.B. Origins :
Canadian History To Confederation. Toronto. 1988.
Francis, R.D., Jones Richard, Smith D.B. Readings In
Canadian History : Pre-Confederation. Toronto. 1990.
Morton, D. New France and War. Toronto. 1983.
Skeoch, E. Album of New France. Toronto. 1986.
Surtees, R.J. The Original People. Toronto. 1971.
Trigger, B.G. Natives and Newcomers. Montreal.1985.
Trigger, B.G. The Indians and The Heroic Age of New
France. Ottawa. 1978.
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