This article builds on the extensive literature regarding the Algonquian belief in the windigo, a cannibal spirit, by examining how traders of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) viewed this phenomenon from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century. As native people brought windigos to posts for care or sought help from HBC employees to protect their families, traders responded to this disorder based on their company's economic interests and their adherence to Enlightenment thought as well as on indigenous expectations of reciprocity. The fur trade and the windigo disorder were linked historically, so that the passing of the one marked the fading of the other, as the economic and cultural ties that shaped relationships between Algonquians and outsiders underwent a profound change in the early twentieth century. An imperial context ultimately determined how most Canadian institutions responded to the windigo, as colonial authorities created narratives around this disorder designed to increase their control over Cree and Ojibwa communities.
Skip Nav Destination
Research Article| October 01 2010
Shawn Smallman; Spirit Beings, Mental Illness, and Murder: Fur Traders and the Windigo in Canada's Boreal Forest, 1774 to 1935. Ethnohistory 1 October 2010; 57 (4): 571–596. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00141801-2010-037
Download citation file: