Since transportation at the time was limited to walking, snowshoeing and canoeing, it’s hard to imagine Native nations being able travel long distances to trade goods. And yet they did in the 1500s.

Materials and resources varied according to the region inhabited by each nation. By trading, each nation was able to obtain the goods and resources they could not find or make on their own territory. For example, the Huron could trade the corn they grew in large quantities for dried fish from the Algonquins. In this way, every nation benefitted.

Want another example? When Jacques Cartier took Donnacona to France in 1535, he noticed that the chief had a copper knife. But copper was not found in the Québec City region where the chief lived. In fact, there was only one place where copper was found: near Lake Superior. Look at the distance between Lake Superior and Québec City on a map; you’ll notice that they are very far apart. So how did the St. Lawrence Iroquoians obtain copper objects? Through a network of trades.

Trading usually took place in the summer, when it was easier to travel long distances. These were times of celebration for Native peoples. Nations that belonged to a confederation, like the Huron and the Five Nations, made trading easier.

Did you know?

How do we know that nations traded products?

Archaeologists have found artefacts made of materials from very distant places. These artefacts date back to before the arrival of the Europeans. This means these materials and objects must have been transported over great distances.

Author: Service national du Récit de l’univers social

Important concepts and big ideas:

Trade Network
Transportation routes