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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Changing social and economic organization among the Rupert House Cree Knight, Rolf


This thesis is based mainly upon field work among the Cree community at Rupert House, Quebec, in the summer of 1961. I have documented the present range in the composition and activity of production and consumption groups and indicated change over the last sixty years. This description is set in the frame of major changes that have occurred in the habitat and the external social environment. The nature of the transitional taiga-tundra biome is delineated. Changes in the manner and extent of its exploitation are described. Certain changes in the plant community have led to the replacement of herd caribou by solitary moose; this in conjunction with new tools has allowed for decrease in the size of trapping-hunting groups. Nevertheless, trapping-groups have remained larger, on the average, than the nuclear family. This is due to the still desirable aid and cooperation of more than one adult man while trapping. Country foods are shown to play a major role in consumption despite the decline in the utilization of certain resources. It is suggested that the importance of country food has been underestimated by some writers who have not fully appreciated the use of fur animals for food. The Rupert House community retains the features of a trapping society despite the fact that this source provides the smallest proportion of community income. The reason for this is that trapping still is the major source of income for close to half of the commensal groups. This situation serves to emphasise the unequal distribution of wage labour and the differential income within the community. Yet, even those families which do receive significant amounts of wage income are dependent upon trapping for necessary additional increments. Furthermore, by far the largest amount of country food and nearly all of the strategic meat is taken while trapping. During late fall and winter, trapping is the only important productive activity that can be undertaken. There are two features which characterise Rupert House social groups today: 1. the smallness of consumption groups, which ideally and most usually are limited to a nuclear family, and 2. the relative fluidity in membership of trapping groups. The effects and demands of ecology are not uniformly reflected in all facets of community life or social organization. The organization of production groups shows the necessary adjustment to the economy and environment much more clearly than does the organization of consumption groups. A third distinct grouping intermediate to commensal and productive groups exists in the form of spring and summer residential units. These units arise when people are most free to arrange themselves as they wish and not as it is economically necessary to. Summer residence units show more clearly than any other the extra commensal arrangements which families would like to maintain. A few extensions through post marital residence or through sibling coresidence does not affect the basically nuclear character of even summer residential groups. The establishment of virtual band endogamy from an earlier condition of a 20%+ rate of inter band marriage is traced through parish records. It is suggested that the seeming unimportance and disappearance of extended kin relations at Rupert House today may be an adjustment to endogamy. No findings were made in the mechanisms or adaptive advantage in the establishment of endogamy. A very marked difference in the income and standard of living of Rupert House commensal groups was found to exist. A common administrative belief that some sort of parity between such groups is established by the variable exploitation of different resources and through extensive sharing was found to be untrue. The overall picture of local social organization is one of marked simplification during the last forty years due to new productive techniques and new Hudson's Bay Company transport and operation policies. A former elaborate social hierarchy of White Hudson's Bay Company officers, Metis artisans and intermediaries, Indian workers, and trappers has given way to a clear-cut division of White administrators and Indian trappers.

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