Date of Award

5-21-2005

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS)

Department

Liberal Studies

First Reader

Cornell Reinhart

Second Reader

Robert Kuhn

Abstract

Along the coastal region of eastern North America, the fur trade created a number of changes within Native American cultures. In part, the fur trade exasperated deteriorating conditions between neighboring tribes by contributing to an escalation of internecine warfare which was on the rise throughout the centuries prior to contact. Competition for access to trade goods led to a destructive cycle of rivalry between the Iroquois, Hurons, and Mahicans that culminated in the destruction of the Huron, the displacement of Mahican tribes from the Fort Orange area by the Mohawk, and the creation of a rivalry within the Iroquoian League. The effects of trade and European contact also created a spiritual crisis among the Iroquois and other indigenous groups. This crisis was caused in part by a combination of factors including the introduction of Old World pathogens, alcohol, intensification of native rivalry, and a French Jesuit Christianization movement which attempted to displace traditional aboriginal beliefs. Another factor of this spiritual crisis is that the fur trade disrupted indigenous ecological practices which led to the almost total annihilation of furbearing species from many regions. As spiritual and cultural pressures increased, Native groups turned against the animal populations upon which they were dependent and began systematic over-hunting of fur bearers in what has been described as warfare against nature. The fur trade was a major factor in shaping the cultural dynamics of culture relations within and between indigenous groups and European colonial powers. In part, the fur trade acted as a catalyst for the undermining and destruction of indigenous cultural traditions, but it could not have existed without the skilled hunting abilities and pre-existing trade networks of the aboriginal peoples of North America. Throughout the volatile sixteenth, seventeenth, and beginning of the eighteenth centuries, the Iroquois successfully and repeatedly turned disadvantages, created by events surrounding the fur trade and colonial expansionism, into advantages by forging the Five Nations tribal affiliation into a strong military and political entity that became a dominate force within the entire Northeastern region.

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