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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The making of the Metis in the Pacific Northwest : fur trade children : race, class, and gender Pollard, Juliet Thelma


If the psychiatrist's belief that childhood determines adult behaviour is true, then historians should be able to ascertain much about the fabric of past cultures by examining the way in which children were raised. Indeed, it may be argued that the roots of new cultures are to be found in the growing up experiences of the first generation. Such is the premise adopted in this thesis, which explores the emergence of the Metis in the Pacific Northwest by tracing the lives of fur trade youngsters from childbirth to old age. Specifically, the study focuses on the children at Fort Vancouver, the Hudson's Bay Company headguarters for the region, during the first half of the nineteenth century — a period of rapid social change. While breaking new ground in childhood history, the thesis also provides a social history of fur trade society west of the Rocky Mountains. Central to the study is the conviction that the fur trade constituted a viable culture. While the parents in this culture came from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, their mixed-blood youngsters were raised in the 'wilderness' of Oregon in a fusion of fur trade capitalism, Euro-American ideology and native values — a milieu which forged and shaped their identities. This thesis advances the interpretation that, despite much variation in the children's growing up experience, most fur trade youngsters' lives were conditioned and contoured by the persistent and sometimes contrary forces of race, class and gender. In large measure, the interplay of these forces denoted much about the children's roles as adults. Rather than making them victims of 'higher civilization,' however, the education of fur trade children allowed them access to both native and white communities. Only a few were 'marginalized'. The majority eventually became members of the dominant culture, while a few consciously rejected the white experience in favour of native lifestyles.

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