By Jack Stevens
After the Europeans’ arrival, Ojibwe (not English, Spanish, or French) became the lingua franca of trade up to the 18th century. Great Lakes tribes established portages and elaborate schedules for water-borne transportation of furs and other trade goods. Choctaw-based Mobilian was the language of commerce between tribes and the new settlers on the lower Mississippi and the Gulf Coast. In the Northeast, both the Dutch and English adopted as legal tender the Indians’ wampum, intricately crafted strings of cylindrical beads.
It is likely that the Lakota ancestors of Hunter and Red Cloud traded buffalo meat, hides and horns for food crops at Arikara trading centers along the upper Missouri Valley. The forebears of Simon and TurningRobe may have bargained at inter-tribal markets along the Columbia River, where Nez Perce, Wishram, Wasco, Wyampam, Chinookian-speaking coastal people, and members of other tribes traded wares.
The framers of the U.S. Constitution acknowledged the substance and scope of these indigenous exchange networks by adopting the Commerce Clause to regulate trade “with the Indian tribes.”
For more on the subject, see Early Inuit Were Entrepreneurs, NCAIED Celebrates 40 Under 40, and Native Women Are Entrepreneurs.