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Aboriginal Peoples invented a meat and berry mixture call pemmican—the continent’s first energy bar!—and later shared the food with European settlers.

Pemmican: The Food That Fueled the Fur Trade

If the fur trade had an official food, it would have been pemmican. The Aboriginal Peoples of North America have been eating this high-energy snack for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, and for the European settlers they shared it with, it was love at first bite. Records show that by 1870, the Hudson’s Bay Company was buying 200,000 pounds of the dried meat and berry mixture every year to fuel the fur trade. In fact, pemmican was so important to the Canadian fur trade that a war broke out in 1814 when a proclamation was made banning its export from the Red River Colony. Pemmican was a very practical food, made out of whatever meat was available—usually buffalo, moose, elk or deer. For berries, cranberries and saskatoon berries were most common, but cherries, currants, chokeberries and blueberries were sometimes used for pemmican at weddings.

Discussion Questions

Pemmican could be stored over the winter, or even longer, without going bad.

How do you think this would have been useful for early Aboriginal Peoples, and later for the fur traders?

What are other examples of cultures adapting each other’s traditional foods?

Resources

Parks Canada. “Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site of Canada: Cultural Treasures.” http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/ab/rockymountain/natcul/natcul2/06.aspx

The Manitoba Historical Society. “The Origins of Metis Nationalism and the Pemmican Wars, 1780-1821.”http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/forkssevenoaks/pemmicanwars.shtml

 

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