Ernie Epp is a professor emeritus of history at Lakehead University, and a member of Parliament for Thunder Bay-Nipigon from 1984 to 1988.
Millenniums ago, as an Ice Age ended and glaciers melted, Mother Earth came to life again in the lands we now call Northern Ontario. The gifts of the creator – fish in the waters, geese in their annual migrations, animals that offered themselves for nourishment and clothing, trees that provided shelter – drew Indigenous people into these territories. In time, Europeans came, too, seeking the animal pelts they could sell in Europe.
This push-and-pull over resources – occasionally fruitful, but often fraught – is the story of Thunder Bay’s economy. It is a narrative of partnerships and rivalries that have shaped the tense relationships between Indigenous people and settlers that exist here to this day.
At its best, the fur trade was a partnership in which cast-off furs – “greasy beaver” – were exchanged for manufactured items such as clothing, knives and guns. European gentlemen bought felt hats made from the inner hair of the beaver pelts, and Indigenous people obtained warmer clothing, superior tools and more effective means of hunting.
Indigenous people also worked as traders and transporters, carrying those manufactured goods into the interior while bringing furs to posts on the coast.
However, the fur trade was always an extraction of resources that violated the symbiotic relationship between Indigenous people and their environment. The “beaver frontier” was one such consequence, as Euro-Canadian traders moved inland in a hungry search for the best furs, with little regard for the people with whom they traded and the areas they left depleted.
For the rest of this column: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-how-natural-resources-form-the-core-of-thunder-bays-indigenous/