Indigenous trail systems were developed over centuries and were created to ensure easy dispersal and movement of the population across vast territories to the many villages, camps, and procurement areas with the goal of maximizing subsistence and minimizing competition over the resources. Trails were selected and created to ensure efficient transportation from habitable locations to places where game, plant foods, medicines, and other resources could be procured. Trails were developed to provide appropriate seasonal movement and to link habitation and village sites to other such sites for essential communication and interaction with extended family and band members in a particular region.
Trails through forested landscapes were frequently marked by “blazing”, whereby certain trees were slashed (or chopped) at various places and in various ways by those who made used the trails as they passed along. In such blazing, the white inner wood of the trees would be exposed to serve as a marker to future persons following the same trail. Blazing was also used to indicate where a trail turned off, or where some other information might need to be conveyed. After many years, blaze marks could appear high up in a tree due to tree growth, or could eventually appear as a natural defect in the tree bark. In addition to directional marking, blazing might include more intricate forms of information. Often, a person passing along a trail might carve a representation of their clan doodem to indicate their passing. Other blazes could be employed to demarcate trapping areas or sugaring areas, whereby someone who discovered a good, unclaimed sugar maple stand might blaze a series of trees with an ax, leaving a distinctive ownership mark to declare their extended family's ownership rights to the grove. No one would think of violating these rights – especially when they noticed the blaze marks.
When possible, trails followed watercourses, with trails running parallel to rivers and tributaries. When water courses could not be followed, or when there was a desire to reach other resource areas, paths would follow the general landscape—seeking the path of least resistance or easiest route. In an area predominate with bogs and permanent wetlands, this meant following glacial beach ridges and moraine features that were usually higher (and perpetually drier) that the surrounding lowland bogs.
While summer movement could include both water and overland travel, winter allowed for different forms of mobility. Movement on winter trails could be covered by men on snowshoes to reach some of the more remote regions by using frozen stream beds and bog lands where large game such as deer or moose “yarded” in an effort to find adequate cover and food. However, the amount of such winter trekking and harvesting an extended family or band could accomplish was limited by the need to not stay too long, as boggy areas were difficult to escape from once spring thaw occurred.
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities