How well did Indigenous peoples adapt to the changing realities around them? Surprisingly well. This was definitely new knowledge for me, in direct opposition to the current image of homelessness, alcoholism, prostitution, and drug use that is prevalent in the media.
The module on residential schools represents the coffin of colonization. This module about resource use represents the nails used to seal the lid tight.
After the bison were practically extinct, Indigenous peoples turned to other methods for surviving economically in the new colonized world: wage jobs (laundry, tailoring, housekeeping, collecting and selling firewood), selling of objects created with traditional materials (woven laundry baskets, beaded moccasins, quillwork place mats, to name only a few), and farming.
Farming was one of the many tools the government used to assimilate Indigenous peoples into the settler lifestyle. Even so, the Indian agents overseeing this new way of life for Indigenous peoples provided inadequate instructions and tools. Still, Indigenous farmers managed to succeed. Good, right? That’s what the government wanted, right?
When the Indigenous farmers started to produce enough to make a decent livelihood, the settlers complained. So the government brought in restrictions, eliminating any competition between Indigenous and non-Indigenous farmers.
Next we look at the revival of the fur trade in the north due to improved transportation and technology. The Hudsons Bay Company (HBC) no longer had a monopoly and other companies were able to expand into the region. This allowed the Indigenous trappers to attain high prices for their furs while obtaining merchandise at reasonable prices. Indigenous peoples being able to sustain a decent livelihood is good, right? This is what the government wanted, right?
Once again, government policies were enacted to limit the ability of the Indigenous peoples to be successful in the economically competitive market. Non-indigenous trappers were able to increase their share of the total harvest and effectively eliminate any competition from Indigenous trappers.
Before colonization, the Indigenous peoples contributed significantly to the fur trade. After colonization, they contributed significantly to the fishing industry. The West Coast Indigenous peoples excelled at fishing. This was their livelihood, how they had been sustaining themselves for millennia. This is good, right? To have their skills contribute to an economically viable country, right?
Guess what? The government brought in policies to restrict the amount of resources Indigenous peoples could extract from the ocean, effectively removing them from competing with non-Indigenous companies.
Interesting how we can see such an obvious and blatant pattern when we look at history through honest eyes. My take away from this module:
Settlers: “You must play our game.”
Indigenous: “We don’t want to play your game. We have our own games. We can both play our own games and live side by side. The land is big enough for us all.”
(Indigenous peoples are forced to play the game the settlers play.)
Settlers: “HEY! We said you must play. We didn’t say you could win.”
(Settlers bring in new rules that limit the amount of pieces and moves the Indigenous peoples can have and do.)
Settlers: “There’s only room for one game in this country. And that game is ours. We will let you sustain yourselves. But you cannot become richer than us, you can never win. That would never do!”
Week 7’s lesson: Red Power
You can access the MOOC through: https://www.coursera.org/learn/indigenous-canada#faq