Culture and Heritage

July 15, 2020

History

Hunting, trapping, and the fur trade are a major part of the history and settlement of North America. Indigenous people had been trapping fur-bearers for food and clothing for thousands of years. With the arrival of Europeans in the 1600’s, the trade of furs was the basis for important relationships of colonist and indigenous people. France, England, and Holland quickly laid the ground work to exchange the new world’s hottest commodity, facilitating the growth and development of trading posts, which grew into some of the worlds largest cities such as New York, Chicago, and St. Louis [1]. The fur trade grew to be one of the largest and most important economic ventures in North America. 

 

Culture

Today, thousands of people still participate in the time honored tradition of hunting and trapping. While trapping equipment may look quite different than it did 400 years ago, the techniques and age old wisdom remain. For many, the sport has been a way of life for generations, offering an opportunity to get out in nature and enjoy a challenging yet rewarding process, often with friends or family. Many indigenous people still rely on hunting and trapping for food and income, as their ancestors have for thousands of years. Much of what we know about trapping and conservation today stems from the ancient philosophy of “take half leave half”. When the Potawatomi people harvested the wild sweetgrass, they would never take more than half, allowing the compensatory growth to give way to a crop that was heartier and healthier than it would be should they have left it all [2]. This practice is mirrored today with hunters and trappers “thinning the herd”. Regulations allow populations to grow strong and healthy, without reaching nuisance levels. This wisdom teaches that while we can certainly take too much, we can also take too little. “If we allow traditions to die, relationships to fade, the land will suffer” [3]. The harvest of furbearers, among other natural resources, is an integral part of North America’s heritage, allowing for a spiritual system of checks and balances that has kept nature and people safe and healthy for generations. Modern regulations have reinforced the balance to create a beneficial system on both sides of the trapline. In the same way that hunters and trappers rely on nature, nature relies on them. Every year, sportsman flock to conventions and online forums to share techniques, wisdom, and tales from out on the trapline. The spirt of exploration that once captivated the western hemisphere is alive today in the hunters and trappers that set out to experience all nature has to offer. The harvest of fur bearers takes a great amount of skill, as well as daily work checking and setting traps in the frigid winters. Trapping and hunting is not for the faint of heart, it’s for people who love what they do, who they do it with, and what they do it for.

 

Economic

The modern fur industry, worth billions of dollars and employing nearly 10 million people worldwide, provides hunters and trappers with a market to sell their products. Many families are heavily reliant on the supplemental income, with many using it for anything from household necessities to higher education. Few hobbies have the built in benefit of being paid for your success. In some parts of the United States and Canada, Indigenous people rely on the sale of their harvest almost entirely. Obviously, the supply chain doesn’t stop at the trapper. Fur buyers with a vast, handed down knowledge of fur must grade and purchase pelts from the trapper. Brokers and manufacturers evaluate the buyer’s stock, and decide what pelts to use according to current demand. Skilled workers, designers, and artisans then craft the fur into a lasting, high quality product. Lastly, a retailer can sell the finished fur product to a consumer. This process represents a large part of the economies of countries like the U.S., Canada, and China, and as mentioned earlier, provides jobs to millions. As one of the most culturally rich, sustainable, and oldest industries, fur is the center of millions of peoples’ livelihood, while having a lasting, positive effect on the ecosystems it relies upon.

[1] Early Trapping in North America [Internet]. Hunter-ed.com. 2020 [cited 14 July 2020]. Available

from: https://www.hunter-ed.com/nationaltrapper/studyGuide/Early-Trapping-in-North-America/

221099_87868/

[2] Kimmerer, R., n.d. Braiding Sweetgrass.

[3] Hastings D. Braiding Sweetgrass, indigenous cultural wisdom. Fur Taker Magazine. 2020;.