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The Woman Who Married a Beaver: Trade Patterns and Gender Roles in the Ojibwa Fur Trade

Bruce M. White
Ethnohistory
Vol. 46, No. 1 (Winter, 1999), pp. 109-147
Published by: Duke University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/483430
Page Count: 39
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The Woman Who Married a Beaver: Trade Patterns and Gender Roles in the Ojibwa Fur Trade
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Abstract

The Southwestern Ojibwa (Anishinaabeg) participated in the fur trade from the seventeenth century until recent times, trading animal skins and other items to obtain a variety of European goods that they valued. Many descriptions of the fur trade suggest that it consisted of fur-merchandise exchanges between European men and native men, with women playing a largely subsidiary role. In fact, trade among the Ojibwa was never exclusively a trade of furs for merchandise, nor was direct trade the only form of transaction between the Ojibwa and fur traders. Men were the major participants in trade ceremonies and were recipients of credit from traders-the means through which most furs were exchanged. Given the flexibility of Ojibwa gender roles, women sometimes participated in these trade transactions. However, the major role of women in the trade was as suppliers of food and supplies, commodities that were exchanged in barter transactions. These other commodities provided women with many opportunities to participate in the trade. Women also exerted control over the trade as marriage partners for traders. All these roles for women in the trade were reflective of Ojibwa belief that women's roles were ultimately shaped by spiritual power rather than any gender category based solely on a rigid division of labor.

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