Ship based fur trading.


The 1790's, the Indians have the upper hand.


From the book Contact & Conflict, pg.140, by Robin Fisher, 1977
Yet even in these early years the Indians were not passive objects of exploitation. Rather they vigorously asserted their demands. Northwest coast Indians were, for example, never very interested in baubles and beads as trade items. Cook noted in his journal that European beads could not supplant the Nootkans' own ornaments. So the old stereotype of the avaricious trader stealing Indian furs for a few trinkets never applied to the maritime fur trade.

Further more, the comparatively easy trading and high profits of the first frantic years were not to continue. As vessels visited the coast with increased frequency, the trade settled into a more consistent pattern, and it was, after all, Indian demands which had to be satisfied before sea otter pelts exchanged hands.

For one thing, the Indians rapidly lost their curiosity about the Europeans and their vessels. A ship under full sail was an impressive sight, but to the trading Indians it became commonplace. In contrast to the curiosity with which the Queen Charlotte was received in 1787, the Indians of Cloud Bay wandered all over Jacinto Caaman-o's ship Aranzazu' in 1792 "without showing wonder at anything, nor was there any object of which they did not appear to know the use."

As in most contact situations, the initial phase, when the white men were in explicable and were perhaps even regarded as supernatural beings, soon passed. It quickly became apparent to the Indians that their visitors were quite human, and though some of their behavior might be curious, many of their demands and desires were familiar.

As the Indians grew accustomed to the presence of the Europeans, they also became shrewder in trading with them. Even after his brief encounter with a group of Haida in 1774, Perez declared that the Indians were expert and skillful traders. The members of Cook's expedition reached similar conclusions. As one of them put it, "they are very keen traders getting as much as they could for everything they had; always asking for more give them what you would".

The consequence of their astuteness was that the Indians of Nootka "got a great middly and variety of things" from the Resolution and Discovery than any other people that the vessels had visited. When John Meares left on a trading expedition to the coast in 1787, he was warned that "it appears that the natives are such intelligent traders, that should you be in the least degree lavish, or inattentive in forming bargains, they will so enhance the value of their furs, as not only to exhaust your present stock, but also to injure, if not ruin, any future adventure."


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