Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Peace, War, and Climate Change on the Northern Plains: Bison Hunting in the Neutral Hills during the Mild Winters of 1830-34

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Peace, War, and Climate Change on the Northern Plains: Bison Hunting in the Neutral Hills during the Mild Winters of 1830-34

Article excerpt

A spate of mild winters in the early 1830s disrupted the migrations of bison in the northern Plains, seriously challenging the hunting and subsistence strategies of the region's Native peoples and forcing adjustments in how they allocated resources among themselves. In the Neutral Hills complex in present-day Alberta, a location where bison congregated during these mild winters, the Niitsitapi (the Blackfoot People), Cree, Plains Ojibwa and Nakoda joined camps and coordinated their bison hunting despite the fact that the Cree alliance and the Blackfoot were at war at the time. In such circumstances, they undoubtedly reanimated critical flows of ritual and oral traditions, and responded to one with another in meaningful ways. These exchanges occurred during a relatively brief moment in time and at a specific, spiritually significant, place. After the colder winters returned, the same groups would again separate to pursue interests within their territories and re-engage in warfare one with another. Yet from 1830-1834, a cooperative encounter had reaffirmed strategies of resource allocation among the many bands that relied on them.

An analysis of these years allows a nuanced rethinking of J.R. Miller's periodization of Native-Newcomer interactions. He conceptualized the fur trade era as one being shaped by the accommodations made among Aboriginal people with newcomers. (1) As had been the case in the eastern woodlands, the fur trade expanding into the western plains would not have found entry "without Indian tolerance of and cooperation with the English" and other Europeans. (2) Scholars subsequently providing more detail of Aboriginal participation in the fur trade, however, implicitly challenged the view of an Aboriginal cultural continuity and cooperation among people in the era. Changing tribal alliances, greater firepower in the gun trade, the impact of horses, and more bloody warfare in the context of the "buffalo" and "horse wars" of the period shaped Aboriginal relations one with another, and with newcomers. (3) One of the key changes in the early nineteenth-century was the rupture of the "northern coalition" that had earlier developed between Cree, Assiniboine, and Blackfoot to facilitate horse and European goods exchange. As direct European trade opened in the western regions of the plains, eastern Cree found themselves marginalized in European trading. Eastern areas of the plains were particularly "horse poor," with herds perennially thinned by the severity of the winter weather. Eastern Cree and Nakoda, with now fewer exchange opportunities with Blackfoot-speaking people, raided Atsina and Mandan for horses. By the early nineteenth century, "horse warfare" by the Eastern Cree, Nakoda, and Plains Ojibwa targeted Blackfoot allies, sparking conflict between the Blackfoot and these horse raiders. (4) In light of such observations, Gerhard Ens suggested that the "view of the fur trade as a 'Peaceable Kingdom' can only be maintained by ignoring the Canadian plains and parklands through much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries." He argued that, "[h]ere, Aboriginal groups battled each other for trade advantages, made all the more bloody by the introduction of firearms; European fur companies competed fiercely, and Aboriginals and Europeans both fought and traded with each other on a ground made bloody by competing and often divergent interests." (5)

While not diminishing the importance of such changing trade relations, it seems beneficial to return to Miller's understanding of an Aboriginal cooperative encounter, both among Aboriginal people themselves and with newcomers in the context of the fur trade. Miller suggested that an entire suite of Aboriginal worldviews, rituals, and interests resonated in the context of the fur trade era. (6) That perspective has been supported in numerous ethno-historical and archaeological studies. The placement of fur trade posts at traditional rendez-vous points linked by related river and path systems, for example, seems to have supported rather than contravened a larger "Cree social geography. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.