The efforts of women were vital to life
Early fur trade journals often fail to mention Native women, except as side notes or as they pertain to the men that they dealt with. However, given the general division of labor in aboriginal society, it is clear that women made crucial contributions to their families' comfort and to the overall economy.
Wild rice and maple sugar were both largely the products of female labor and were highly valued as both subsistence items and trade goods. Rolls of birchbark and other plant materials were also important trade items and necessary items to the conduct of life. These were also the product of the efforts of women. Women were also vital to hunting as they processed buffalo and beaver hides for sale to traders, made pemmican and dried meat, and other by-products. During fishing season they turned the catch into fish pemmican, sturgeon oil, and smoked the fish to ensure that there would be ample stores prior to summer hunting season. Any surplus quantities created by the efforts of women were in constant demand by traders. Yet despite this, the efforts of women were often assigned a lower social value than big game brought in by men.
In practical terms, however, the wide range of subsistence resources that women produced were vital in compensating for the effects of environmental fluctuations. “Women's foods” — rice, maple sugar, salt, roots and berries, and the small game that they snared — were essential to a balanced and productive seasonal round, and often were the only things keeping the people from starving to death. In some cases, women might reject a husband entirely — living alone and supporting themselves. In such cases they would necessarily undertake all activities, such as trapping, canoe-making, even hunting.