May 12, 1908
The Native Americans around Bear Lake would buy civilized clothing that was expensive and not warm enough for the winter, while also purchasing sweet and expensive foods, just to say they are fashionable and modern.
My Life with the Eskimo - Chapter 2
Here, as in many other places on the river, we saw examples of the improvidence of the Indians. Even in winter they dress in imported cloth garments which are far more expensive and not half so warm as the clothing they could make out of the skins of the animals they kill. But similar things occur the world over. Perhaps it should not be regarded as strange, but rather as a proof of the universal brotherhood of man , that the Northern Indian would rather shiver in fashionable attire than be comfortable in the furs which are cheap and therefore unaristocratic. On Bear Lake I have known them to sell caribou skins at fifty cents apiece to buy a duck coat at eight or ten dollars, when two caribou skins would have made a much warmer garment. An Indian woman at Smith Landing, while we were there, traded twenty suckers, which was food enough for a week, for one pound of tinned salmon, which did not make even a meal for her, and this at a time when she had been on short rations for several days on account of the want of fish, and when the twenty fish were all she had caught. Chocolate, imported English jams and marmalade, candies, and ribbons are the staple wares of these posts nowadays. It must be said that it was a part of the generally wise policy of the Hudson's Bay Company not to encourage among the Indians the development of these expensive tastes which it is so difficult for them to find the means to satisfy, but of late years the Company has had to follow where other traders have led them and now , instead of taking into the country what they consider good for the Indian, they are forced to take in anything that the Indian will buy. It is only the wise laws of the land that have determined that these articles shall be candies and sweetmeats instead of brandies and gin.
We started from Fort Smith June 11th and that afternoon stopped at the mouth of the Salt River to buy salt from the Indians, which they get nearly pure in a bed exposed a few miles upstream . They bring it down to the mouth of the Salt River, where they keep it for trading purposes, supplying the entire Mackenzie district with salt. The Indians everywhere along the river are dressed in general like white men . Many of them speak English, often with a broad Scotch accent, for most of the Hudson's Bay factors, through a whole hundred years or more of the continuous occupation of the Mackenzie valley, have been Scotchmen and Orkneymen. Although practically unknown to science, these Indians are thoroughly sophisticated and have to a large extent forgotten the manners and customs of their ancestors . They are all Christianized, with the exception of one small tribe who live in the mountains westward from Fort Providence. It is a remarkable thing, as we have it from the stories of James Mackinlay and Joseph Hodgson and others who know them well, that this one tribe keep with jealousy the customs, religion, and language of their ancestors. They come down to Fort Providence to trade every summer, but they have nothing to do with the Chris tianized Indians, nor with the white men, except in so far as they are compelled to in the mere matter of trading. These Indians are said by the Hudson's Bay men to differ strikingly from the rest of the natives in being more enterprising, more honorable, and thoroughly self-respecting. Up to four years ago, at least, they had constantly refused to take presents from the Canadian government, a thing which all the other Indians do under the name of "treaty money.” An arrangement was made a few years ago by which all the Indians, with the one exception noted, as far north as Fort Providence, signed away their “tribal rights ” in consideration of the payment to them every year by the Canadian government of five dollars in money, and small presents of tea, flour, and other articles of trade.
This is an arrangement which for the present at any rate does not seem to be doing the Indians any good, for they lose much valuable time in coming from great distances to the trading posts to wait for the “ treaty parties ” of the Indian Department; but the arrangement at least furnishes employment, no doubt both pleasant and profit able, to a few white men who come each year bearing gifts and who make the annual round of the tribes. There is with them a doctor, usually, who takes a glance at whatever sick and maimed there may be in the Indian villages, and who no doubt picks up information of interest about the condition of the natives ; but he could scarcely be supposed to do them much good, directly, by this one visit a year. It would be much more to the advantage of the Indian if the Canadian government would do as the Danish government does in Greenland, and instead of sending these expensive parties on perfunctory visits, should station a medical man every two hundred or three hundred miles so that his services could be available when needed.