Metis Subsistence Economy Before European Contact - Essay Sample

Published: 2023-10-15
Metis Subsistence Economy Before European Contact - Essay Sample
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Economics Agriculture
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1166 words
10 min read


Metis, just like other Aboriginal communities, had a subsistence economy before contact with the Europeans. Their economy was organized around activities such as hunting, gathering, and fishing. These economic activities were determined by geographical availability as well as the seasonal patterns of the primary food sources (Tough, 2011). These factors also determined the duration and size of settlements. Surplus materials allowed trade between the Metis people and other Aboriginal communities. Other than the material benefits gained from trade, the activity also helped the community build prestige, strengthen its alliances with neighbors, as well as resolve any existing disputes (Tough, 2011). The economic activities of the population underwent several changes in the 19th century, particularly due to the increasing contact with Europeans. In this light, this paper seeks to discuss the economic development of the Metis people in the 19th century.

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The Rise and Fall of Fur Trade

Initially, the arrival of the Europeans did not cause significant disruption to the economic activities of the people. Instead, they expanded the economic opportunities available to the Metis people. For instance, they introduced more trade items and formalized the fur trade (Tough, 2011). However, as the century progressed, these opportunities led to disruptions based on the availability of resources. With the rise in the fur trade, a shift was observed from subsistence hunting in an attempt to meet the market needs (Ray, 1998). As the trade grew, the dependence of the people on external markets increased, a factor that would later lead to destructive consequences as a result of the boom and bust patterns of the new system (Tough, 2011). However, as fur-bearing animals and other types of game approached extermination, there was a need for a change in economic activities. Other than resource scarcity, low fur prices also affected the sector (Tough, 2011).

The Shift to Agriculture

With the rise of the settler economy and the fall of the fur trade, the Metis people increasingly found themselves vulnerable due to the economic disruption. In response to the change, the Metis people fell back on agriculture. Records form the 1870s indicate that the Aboriginals saw subsistence agriculture as a better alternative to fishing and hunting, which no longer satisfied their needs (Tough, 2011). The hunting economy was also getting increasingly insecure, increasing the interest of the population in agriculture. The trend was observed throughout the remaining part of the 19th century as more members of the community turned to agriculture. The settlers were also making huge profits in agriculture, which made the natives lean more towards this direction. Even with a scarcity of tools, the communities found ways to cultivate. For instance, it is recorded that even without horses or cattle, the people used portage straps and ropes to plough and harrow their fields (Tough, 2011). Tragedies witnessed over the years, such as the floods of the early 1880s, did not shake their commitment to agriculture (Tough, 2011). It is recorded that the Lake Manitoba reserve had several small farms by 1877, a testament to the community’s increasing dependence on agriculture (Tough, 2011). Subsistence farming also took hold in several other reserves around the country. Improvement in agricultural methods and techniques was also witnessed in the century. Other than cultivation, stock-raising also became a major activity within the reserves. However, they did not keep large herds due to lack of good hay.

Over the years, the agricultural economy faced several challenges. For instance, an outbreak of Canadian thistles led to the abandonment of fields in some parts of the country (Tough, 2011). This led to a decline in agricultural activities in the community by the turn of the century. A rise in wildlife resources in the 1880s and 1990s also affected their involvement in agriculture. The increase in the moose population, whose hides fetched a decent sum, turned the attention of the Aboriginals from agriculture (Tough, 2011). The inability of the native communities to transition from subsistence farming to commercial production was another limitation to the progression of agriculture in this population.

Effect of the Indian Act

Passed in 1876, the Indian Act had a massive impact on the economy of the Metis and other Aboriginal communities. It was aimed at making the communities more civilized by creating Indian bands, band councils, and Indian reserves to impose democracy on them (Morden, 2016). In a big way, the Act isolated the communities from the country’s economic sphere (Stevenson, 2019). Mobility between reserves was restricted, and hence trade between the communities was hurt. A majority of reserves were located on agriculturally poor lands, a factor that hampered the development of the activity among the native populations. Such factors worked against the economic development of the native communities and have contributed to the disparities in economic status between the natives and non-natives witnessed today (Greschner, 2018). Colonization, in the later years, further hurt the economic activities at the disposal of the community in the reserves (Carter, 2015).


As seen in the paper, by engaging in hunting, gathering, fishing, and occasional trade, the Metis people were traditionally self-sufficient. However, contact with the Europeans influenced them to adopt new economic activities, a factor that entirely transformed their way of life. A ready market led to a rise in the hunting economy, which almost exterminated fur-bearing animals. As that economy fell, the Metis people shifted to agriculture. However, they faced several challenges, and the activity did not take permanent hold. Various legislation, such as the Indian Act, also affected their economic fortunes, and to some extent, have contributed to the disparities seen today.


Carter, S. (2015). They Would Not Give Up One Inch of It’: The Rise and Demise of St Peter’s Reserve, Manitoba. Indigenous Communities and Settler Colonialism, 173-193. Retrieved from

Greschner, J. (2018, September 19). Firts Nation poverty has historical context. Retrieved from News Optimist:

Morden, M. (2016). Theorizing the resilience of the Indian Act. Canadian Public Administration, 59(1), 113-133. Retrieved from

Ray, A. J. (1998). Indians in the fur trade: their role as trappers, hunters, and middlemen in the lands southwest of Hudson Bay, 1660-1870: with a new introduction. University of Toronto Press. Retrieved from

Stevenson, A. D. (2019). Thinking Historically through an Indigenous Lens: Kelm and Smith’s Talking Back to the Indian Act. Canadian Journal of History, 54(3), 376-380. Retrieved from

Tough, F. (2011). As their natural resources fail: Native peoples and the economic history of northern Manitoba, 1870-1930. UBC Press. Retrieved from,+1870-1930&ots=4_6xAzqFlz&sig=AxY5GIqFgOZkQ7E8lJmsxdMf10w

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