How the French Colonists Treated the Native Americans

Colonial France provides some contrast to the economic and religious practices of other nations toward the Native Americans. The economy in the French colonies was based almost entirely on trading animal furs. Samuel de Champlain established a trading post at Quebec in 1608 and entered into an alliance with the Algonquin, Montagnais, and Huron Indians. The coureurs de bois, or French traders, gave the Native Americans metal goods in exchange for beaver fur. This fur was in high demand in Europe. Trading posts were placed on vacant land and France’s economy was not dependant on cash crops like tobacco. In contrast to colonial England and Spain, the French colonists fully incorporated the natives into their economic system. The natives did not work for the French colonists or have their lands taken by whites.

The religious practices of colonial France were also unlike those of England and Spain. Champlain sent for missionaries to convert the natives. Catholic priests called Recollets and Jesuits who established Montreal came to the area. Since France’s economic system depended on the well-being of the natives, missionaries were more tolerant of the Native Americans than missionaries from other countries. Only colonial France was able to produce economic and religious practices that did not subject the natives to cruelty.

One reason for the tolerance of the French traders and missionaries of the natives may have been their small numbers. The population of New France never reached the level of New Spain or the English colonies. As a result, there was less pressure placed on the Indians and their lands. Luckily for the Native Americans in French colonies, the small white population may have stopped some of the forced labor requirements and land grabbing that went on in other colonies.

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