For Museums, State/National Parks, Heritage Sites, Powwows, Cultural Centers & Schools
This program highlights the post-historic Native cultural changes in response to participating in a new economy based on furs… we’ve gone into detail here on our content as we believe most hunting-focused interpretive programs don’t address this subject fully or precisely, in all its complexity.
And for this reason, as this program description also reads like one of our informative articles, we'll include a citation, especially for students use. To cite this page/reading:
We start at the beginning… the responsibility Native Peoples (ie Human/Two Legged Nation) had to the animals (Animal/Four-Legged Nations). A large misconception is that Native Peoples acted as “keepers” of the animals historically, however the evidence and worldviews are clear… Native Peoples in most traditions of the East did not envision themselves “above” the animals, which would be necessary to act as “keepers” ie custodians (though in a modern Western-world, “keepers” are now necessary). The Human and Animal Nations were equal back then, and promises kept between the two highlight the respect each side expected from the other, resulting in a delicate balance that allowed humans to hunt animals while the animals could continue to populate their species without abuse (reasonable hunting not considered abuse). It was, in all reality, a treaty made and kept between the Human and Animal Nations… Native histories even speak to times before this understanding had come to be, or when such treaties were broken (by either side), resulting in a war on a particular Animal Nation, or for the Animal Nations to disappear and leave humans all together (a loss of a food source). We cover a couple of these examples in our program.
From this perspective, our audience can fully understand the nature of the human-animal relationship, and how that affected historical hunting practices. A myth we commonly confront is that of “Native Americans used every part of the animal” - this is completely untrue by all archaeological, historical, and ethnographical evidence. It is a statement resulting in our oversimplification of Native responsibilities to the Animal Nations. A more fact-based statement would be that “Native Americans had a use for every part of the animal” but indeed, they did not use every part of every animal taken (or given, depending on the perspective). The real golden rule of the hunter wasn’t about using every part of the animal but to have a real need/use to take that animal’s life (or request the animal to die for the hunter… again, a different perspective). Hunters were not to hunt animals for trivial reasons, or abuse the life of any animal (to interact with animals with ill-intent). Overhunting or ungratefulness for an animal’s gift of life was the “sin” that might break the treaty and result in a hunter’s sudden inability to hunt (as the animals refuse to die for him or her anymore) or in disease like rheumatism that would plague the hunter’s body and thwart his or her ability to provide through a career made in the woods.
The well-intended use of the animal is what made the act of hunting legal… so we highlight the use of animal resources by Indigenous Peoples, from preserving meat and food from organs, hide-tanning to make clothing and shoes, tendons and gut for sinew and cordage, rendering fat for cooking and cosmetic applications, and tools and jewelry from bones, teeth, antlers, hooves, etc., feathers for mantles and other decorative/symbolic uses, and so on. Not all animals were hunted for food, but they were to be hunted with good intentions and a need for something the animal’s physical body provided. But with the coming of Europeans came big changes to both the Human and Animal Nations of Turtle Island (North America).
Previous to the big players of European trade arriving in the Eastern Woodlands (the French, the English, and the Dutch), the hunting of animals by Native persons was dictated usually by personal and family needs, and in some cases, probable use as trade commodities (indeed claws, teeth, certain bones and such found their way far outside the natural habitat of the animals in which they derived due to Pre-Columbian trade). But now the fur market established by a foreign Human Nation dictated the animals in demand. While beavers and other small fur-bearing animals were targeted in the north, deer hides ruled the market in the south (and other animal furs, like bear and raccoon, filled in the spaces). Not only did this foreign market dictate what animals were “most valuable,” it also demanded more animals be taken. When hunters agreed to participate in the Fur Trade, it marked a dramatic shift in Native worldviews, which was necessary to accommodate such a large demand of furs. But not all reasoning changed… after all, the animals’ skins did provide necessities indirectly. But hunting activities among Native Peoples increased dramatically, considering most the Nations involved in the Eastern Woodlands were actually horticulture-based - hunting provided the least amount of food at the time of first European contacts when compared to farming and gathering.
Trade itself wasn’t new with European arrival… trade routes were extensive in North America prior to any Old World newcomers. Whether by trade or travel (and usually a little of both), Native Peoples sought materials from distant lands, acquiring mica, obsidian, quartz and all types of stone and flint, coastal shells, freshwater pearls, exotic animal teeth and claws (and probably feathers), galena (lead ore), and of course copper. With the European Fur Trade came different (but universally similar) materials… silver, silk, chintzes/calicos, glass beads, metal tools and containers, and the very in-demand stroud wool.
A big misconception we like to address in our programs is just why these European goods became desired by Native Peoples. Most assume it's because the European items were “better” than their Native-manufactured counterparts. While these trade items surely did have benefits, they often had some major drawbacks too (something we go into detail about in our presentations). Another belief is that trade goods were just so different and new that "strangeness" alone established a high value to the items, however the evidence points not to a state of wonderstruck being responsible for a thriving trade economy as much as an already existing system of valuing... Indigenous standards of familiar material culture is what dictated value of European goods in Native eyes (for example, European silver is valued in the same way copper, mica, and other lustrous native materials were valued, both in decorative and spiritual value).
What really fueled the trade for Native consumers was in fact convenience… convenience, and at times even cheapness of products (and unfortunately alcohol also played a roll in keeping the fur trade economy thriving too). By focusing only on acquiring furs, hunters could provide almost anything needed for their families, without them or their kin giving attention to maintaining some other skillsets. In this way, hunting became a more devoted occupation, particularly for the hunters, as families relied more and more on the trade of furs for many necessities. However we do note that some also diversified their “trade income,” providing corn, maple sugar, galena, or other goods and even labor services to their Anglo neighbors, thus making these families less vulnerable to a fluctuating fur market. And although the trade of furs resulted in more dependency on hunters (usually men) for everyday items now of foreign manufacture, it was women who were the center of other Native products in demand by some Anglo forts and communities… the mining of galena (lead ore) only increased with the introduction of European muskets, making a it lucrative business for Native women miners of the western Great Lakes, and maple sugar, produced largely by women, was traded by the tens-of-thousands of pounds in a single year. In some areas of the north, maple sugar was as big as furs, economically speaking.
Our program also emphasizes how early trade with Europeans affected Native homelands later. Such reliance on trade would play in favor of an ever-expanding land-hungry America, when “negotiations” were anything but fairly negotiated, partly due to American officials taking advantage of Native dependence on Anglo-supplied materials. Decades of such foreign goods flooded into Native communities, encouraging retirement of older skillsets and traditional notions of lifestyle. One 18th century observer noted: “The Indians, by reason of our supplying them so cheap with every sort of goods, have forgotten the chief part of their ancient mechanical skill, so not to be well able now, at least for some years, to live independent of us.” Such was the current reality for Native Peoples pressured to relinquish lands to the very people who supplied, or controlled the supply, of their everyday items of necessity.
Our camp (seen in the photos) is set up to reflect a family-style hunting camp, though we speak about both family hunting parties and those exclusively comprised of hunters. We display usual items and tools that would be found in the hunting camp, from a hide stretching frame to a baby cradle, from everyday clothing to a musket and bow, as well as a sampling of both pre-contact Native items of trade (copper, galena, shell, obsidian, mica, etc.) and those of European trade materials. As part of our program, we conduct a couple ongoing demos related to the hunting camp like scraping or smoking a hide, drying meat, rendering animal fat, sharpening bone tools, and/or cooking the daily meal. We also include some tools of Native manufacture for visuals while we discuss the replacement of pottery, stone, textile, and other indigenous technologies by European goods. The program includes a hands-on component for children, whether the “fur test,” scraping a hide, or learning to shoot an arrow with an old-style longbow.
Hunting Camp Interpretive Program, with small camp set-up (featuring the lean-to)
$450 day 1, $350 per day after
Hunting Camp Interpretive Program, with full camp set-up (featuring both lean-to and larger a-frame lodge)
$550 day 1, $350 per day after
Hunting Camp Interpretive Program, indoors with no structure set-up (works well for some larger museums)
$220-$350 per day (depending on set-up, such as with or without stretched hide)
Click here to learn more about our camp structures.
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