Aboriginal People

Living with the Aboriginal People

The pioneers heavily relied on the kindness of the Aboriginal people that they first met when settling into Canada.  If it were not for the different Aboriginal groups helping the pioneers with learning how to grow different types of crops in the summer and how to use the land and the animals around them to survive the winter, the pioneers would never have survived.

The map below shows many of the Aboriginal Tribes that existed when the explorers and, eventually, the pioneers first settled into Upper Canada.



(Web)  https://indigenoushistory.wordpress.com/page/2/

There were also many different Aboriginal groups in the early American colonies.  



(Web) http://mappinghistory.uoregon.edu/english/US/US05-00.html

Before pioneers first settled into the New World, explorers came with soldiers and volunteers to discover the new land and scout out the resources to report back to the countries that they originated from.  Spanish and British explorers were not necessarily considerate of the Aboriginal people and did not value what they had to offer.  Instead, many of these explorers treated the Native Americans as sub-human and took their goods without even the offer of trade.  Some of the Native Americans were even enslaved by these explorers and sent back to Europe with them.  The French explorers, for the most part, realized the value in having the Aboriginal People help them in understanding the new land and learning how to survive the various seasons.  There was also an opportunity to convert these people to embrace the religious beliefs of the French as well as trade for goods that were useful for both sides.  Many friendships were created between the French people and the Native Americans which allowed these people to build thriving settlements very early on without fear of attack (except if it involved tribes that were not friends of that particular Aboriginal group).

By the time that pioneers came to settle in the various colonies and villages forming across the Dominion of Canada and United States of America, there was still some residual worries involving the different Aboriginal tribes but many more friendships and partnerships had been established.  By the late 1700s, treaties between the settlers and the Aboriginal peoples had been negotiated and a fair amount of trust had been established.  The Native Americans traded land in exchange for money and goods as well as the ability to keep the hunting and fishing rights.  These treaties allowed the European settlements to expand and grow.

Different Ideas about Land Use

The Aboriginal peoples and the pioneers had different ideas about how the land should be used.  While the pioneers believed that they had the right to own the land and change it by clearing the forests for their villages and settlements, the Native Americans believed that the land was for everyone to use and share.  Despite the sale of land with the treaties, they misunderstood the intent of the European settlers.  Many arguments had developed as a result of this misunderstanding which still carries on today.

How the Aboriginal People Helped the Pioneers

  • Farming
The Native Americans were excellent farmers and showed pioneers that planting different crops in the same field every year would help to keep the soil rich and fertile.  This was called crop rotation and it was important to keep soil healthy by practicing this method every year.  

They also showed the pioneers how to plant the three sisters (corn, beans and squash) which helped each other to grow.  The corn provided support for the beans which, in turn, gave nitrogen to the corn to help it grow and the large prickly squash leaves shaded the soil to prevent the growth of weeds and keep away the insects.

They also showed the importance of corn overall.  

For pioneers that had a partnership with the Iroquois Nation, they discovered that the women had the very important responsibility of farming and they were the ones that taught the pioneers about the importance of growing strong, healthy corn.  

It was important to not only choose the strongest and largest kernels for planting but to also use fish to help fertilize the soil and therefore help the plants to grow healthy and tall. The Native Americans showed the pioneers how to make good use of the available space by planting other seeds with the corn - including bean plants under the corn stalks so that the beans grew up the stalks and used them for support.  Pumpkin and squash plants could be planted under the corn stalks as well since they grew outward and not upward so there was plenty of room for then to spread out.  They used this method of farming for many years.

It was a great vegetable as it could be planted several times in a year and could be picked within 60 days of planting.  Once the corn was ripe and ready to pick, the Native Americans showed settlers how to not only cook the vegetable but to dry some of the kernels for grinding into flour called cornmeal which was used for making pudding, bread and porridge.  They also used the flour to teach pioneers how to make bannock (a type of bread that was easy to make and required little time to bake) or cornbread by combining milk (or water) with eggs and sugar.  They also made hush puppies by using hot fat.  The Aboriginal people showed the settlers how to dry the corn to use it for animal feed and there was one other fun way to use corn by heating the kernels to make popcorn - a food that is still enjoyed by everyone today!


  • Medicine
The Aboriginal people were able to teach the pioneers about using plants and herbs to help cure some illnesses. 

When the pioneers first arrived in the New World, many people suffered from illness due to the long journey and lack of healthy food so illness became a serious problem for settlers as they didn't always know how to cure it.  The Native Americans helped by sharing food, ideas for food preparation, the knowledge of how to gather and produce food as well as creating medicines from the plants and herbs.   While some of the pioneers were nervous about taken this unknown medicine from the Aboriginal people, they soon realized that their medicinal knowledge of the plants was excellent and could be trusted.

In order to prevent scurvy, they used the bark from spruce and juniper trees to make a healthy tea that contained an abundance of vitamin C (which was necessary to fight scurvy). 

Many settlers has learned how to create a healthy tonic from the inner bark of the poplar tree in the Spring and that drinking saps from various trees could be healthy and nutritious.  Some of the following plants were used for various illnesses that the pioneers developed:

Elderberry - the inner bark could be used as a pain killer
Ash - the Chippewa made a tonic from the inner bark and used the dried roots as an ingredient in enemas
Blueberry - the flowers would be used by the Chippewa in a medicine for "craziness"
Cattail - the pollen was an astringent and could be placed directly on a cut to control bleeding; the root could be pounded and used in a poultice for infections, blisters and stings or use the young flowerheads to resolve diarrhea and dysentery
Dogbane - the roots were used for heart stimulation and mashed leaves could be used for rheumatism
Dogwood - a bark tea could be used to promote sweating and break a fever
Goldenrod - leaves and flowers were made into a tea for intestinal and urinary disorders
Indian Tobacco - dried leaves were used in smoking mixtures to relieve asthma and respiratory disorders
Juniper - a tea from the twigs would be made for stomach aches and colds while the berries were used as a diuretic and to stop bleeding
Lady's Slipper - the boiled roots would be used to calm nerves and the Chippewa would make a toothache medicine from it
Milkweed - the boiled roots would be used to treat bowel and kidney disorders while the sap could be used for warts and to relieve poison ivy
Nettle - a nettle tea helped clear the lungs while boiling the roots and leaves could also be used for rheumatism
Oak - the bark could be brewed into a tea for diarrhea and the inner bark of a red oak would be made into a tea to assist with heart symptoms
Pine - the gum resin could be chewed for sore throats and pine sap was used to help with coughs or bronchitis
Skunk Cabbage - the powdered or dried root was used to soothe lung ailments like asthma and bronchitis
Sumac - used for stomach pain in a medicine
Witch Hazel - used as an astringent when the bark, leaves and twigs were distilled with alcohol and water; used for internal hemorrhages and menstrual flow


(web) http://www.nativetech.org/plantgath/plantgaht.htm


  • Food
Not only did the Native Americans teach the settlers how and what to hunt as well as the proper way to catch fish, they also showed the pioneers which plants and nuts to gather in the wilderness.  


One of the most iconic foods in Upper Canada that were first introduced by the Aboriginal people, was maple syrup.  The native people showed pioneers that this needed to be done in the Spring when the nights were still frosty and cold but the days were sunny and warm.  They would cut a hole into the trunk of the maple tree and stick a piece of wood into the hole.  The sap ran down the trunk into a birch-bark or deerskin container.  The Native Americans did not have iron pots to put into the fire so they would put hot rocks into the containers holding the maple sap and heat it up until the sap thickened.  It could then be used for sweetening food or even poured onto the snow where the cold would instantly turn it into a sweet and delicious candy.  Once the pioneers learned what to do, they attempted to make the process easier by using drills to cut holes in the trees and using a metal spile (a metal tap) to drain the sap into tin pails.  They used their iron pots to place over the fire in order to boil the sap.

Although bees were originally brought to Upper Canada by the Europeans, many escaped into the woods and flew farther and farther away until they were all over the country.  Soon, the Aboriginal people learned how to find and harvest honey.  New settlers would set up their land and learn how to find what the Aboriginal people originally called "bee trees" or "honey trees" (usually the best time of year to do this was in the Spring).  First, they would follow the bees back to their hives where they would patiently and quietly wait as they watched the bees feed on the nectar before flying back to their hives.  At the right time, they would harvest some of the honey from the hives.  It didn't take long for the settlers to find the trees on their own and discover how to use honey not only as food but also for making candlewax, soothing cuts or scrapes and healing sore throats.


Hunting for deer, rabbits or different types of birds could be done throughout the year but it was more difficult to find animals in the harsh winters so the Aboriginal people taught the pioneers how to preserve meat.  They would cut strips of deer (also called venison) or other animal meat and dried it by smoking the meat over a fire or drying it in the hot sun.  Once the meat was dried, it could be stored for a much longer period of time and would be safe for eating.  The settlers called it beef jerky and found it useful when traveling or when there was little to no meat available to them.  

The Native Americans would often use the dried meat to make pemmican which was a ball of fat rolled with the dried meat along with nuts and berries.  Pemmican lasted for a long time, could easily be stored and was quite nutritious.  It became a handy food for the settlers as well.


  • Clothing
Since the pioneers could not readily get cloth for new clothes and the climate became very harsh with extremely cold temperatures in the winter, many settlers began wearing deerskin or other animal hide clothing made from the Native Americans.  The Aboriginal women would use deer hides to make beautiful vests, jackets, pants, coats and shoes (also called moccasins) and would sew beads onto the leather to make the clothing more attractive.  The pioneers willingly traded their own goods for these lovely clothes.  Without the help of the Aboriginal people, many settlers would have struggled to survive the winters.  In addition to the animal hides, the fur was also used to make warm and comfortable outer clothing to help withstand the extremely cold temperatures.



  • Exploration
The Aboriginal people showed the settlers which trails they made to move across the land.  The trails could easily be used during most of the year but would be difficult in the harsh winters with the deep snow.  Many of the settlers came from areas that were not nearly as cold and snowy during the winter months. The Native American people figured out how to use snowshoes to get around in the winter.  Snowshoes were made by forming a frame from wood and weaving animal hide or sinew into the center in order to make a strong net.  It looked like a tennis racket without the handle.  The frames were tied to boots using leather straps so that the weight of the person could be distributed evenly over a greater area so that the person would not sink easily in the snow.  This contraption would make walking much easier and faster so it became the preferable means of travel in the winter.  Snowshoes are still used today.  The Aboriginal people also showed pioneers how to make and use toboggans to help transport things in the snow.  Today, toboggans have become a popular winter toy for children.  

An important method of exploration during most of the year was the birch bark canoe that allowed both Native people and pioneers to travel freely along the river.  Canoes were developed by the Aboriginal people in North America over a long period of time.  The word "canoe" comes from kenu which was a word describing a dugout log used for transportation a long time ago.  The bark of the birch tree was very light, smooth and waterproof making it a perfect choice for a boat.  Birch trees could be found all over the country at the time so it was readily available to use.  The joints in the canoe were filled with the root of the white pine tree and then hot pine or spruce resin was poured in the open spaces to make it waterproof.  Canoes not only became an important means of transportation by river for the Native people and the settlers, but it was an essential tool for fur traders as the travel became much faster and easier.


(Web) http://image.frompo.com/be0ce463ce06fa04d356d0012f3f1d7d





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