By Frank Tough
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Additional resources for As Their Natural Resources Fail: Native Peoples and the Economic History of Northern Manitoba, 1870-1930
In the subarctic, local needs were met by local resources. The relative abundance of resources means that huge amounts of labour were not required to sustain society. After 1670 a commercial sector developed. Trapping, provisioning the post (hunting and fishing), and wage labour provided commercial incomes for Native peoples. The model demonstrates that even if more time is spent on subsistence activities, the commercial aspect remains paramount. Income from trapping was used to purchase equipment or the means of production, which was required and used by both the subsistence and commercial sectors.
Trade modified production and established an economy composed of subsistence and commercial sectors. ' The shift to production for the market, to guiding production by commercial values or prices, is an important development. In the Canadian fur industry, the exchange unit, Made Beaver (MB), guided the prices of furs, provisions, and labour for centuries. By referring to MB, the relative value of a beaver pelt, or twine for fishnets, or a month's labour were understood by all. In the fur trade, subsistence and commercial labour overlapped; a beaver provides food for the family and a pelt for exchange.
One widely accepted approach argues that subarctic trappers worked in two separate modes of production: one commercial and European, and the other, subsistent, land-based, and distinctly Native. A capitalist and European mode 'articulating' with a noncapitalist Indian mode of production has been a favoured theoretical solution for some social scientists. The dual appearance of the traditional economy cannot be understood by creating two modes of production. Elsewhere the claim is made that Native trappers were really peasants bound to the land-owning Hudson's Bay Company - the fur trade as feudalism.