Traditional Indigenous economies have often been organized around harvesting activities such as: fishing, hunting, and gathering. These dictated where people would be at any given time of the year, and surpluses in these resources would determine what was traded, and with whom. Gathering and trade also influenced where settlements were established, so in a sense, both survival and trade were closely related.
Resources from the sea were of high importance. These included: fish such as salmon and eulachon, crustaceans such as clams and oysters, seaweed, along with whale oil, blubber, and meat. Salmon was particularly important as it was eaten fresh, and also dried out for year-round use.
Trade For Growth
Trade between communities on the Northern Coast of BC enabled opportunities for various Indigenous groups including the Gitga’at. Business done between two groups would enhance each other’s economies, and also bring people together to build prestige, establish or strengthen alliances, or resolve disputes.
In many North Coast First Nations, the Potlatch is a sacred ceremony used to redistribute wealth. It also transfers status and rank, plus rights to various hunting and fishing grounds. Outlawed from 1884 to 1951, the government and its supporters failed to understand the potlatch’s symbolic importance as well as its communal economic exchange value.
The fur trade was one of the early industries that Indigenous groups on BC’s North Coast participated in. Abundant natural resources in the form of animals meant that First Nations in the area were able to practice sustainable harvesting.
Indigenous trade networks were thriving long before the arrival of the Europeans. Various routes were established for trade, and groups relied on each other for commodities only found in their specific area. But trade doesn’t happen without financing, and an investment in keeping communities safe and secure.
Capital for Trade
Trade does not happen without access to capital in various forms. Transportation vessels needed to be created, and food resources packed for long, difficult journeys to distant trading grounds. The purpose of these trips, of course, was for both First Nations to come out ahead in the deal, and for this reason trade flourished among Indigenous networks.
Traditional Economic Practices
Traditional trade practices among Coastal First Nations were long-established before European contact. Knowledge of how to harvest and trade resources successfully was passed down from Elders to younger generations. Although economic development practices are somewhat different now, the same long-term mindset is used. Determining appropriate natural resource management strategies can ensure trade sustainability for generations to come.