How Indigenous Hawaiians Helped Build the Pacific Northwest Economy

"Old Hudson Bay Company's Fort Vancouver—1827" Fort Vancouver, as depicted in Joseph Gaston's Centennial History of Oregon, volume 1, p. 101. Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Editor’s NoteThis is the seventh post in the Seeds 2: New Research in Environmental History” series co-sponsored by NiCHE and Edge Effects, publicising the work of early-career environmental historians. This series serves to highlight new work being done in the field of environmental history and connect this research to other fields and contemporary issues.

By Naomi Calnitsky

In the nineteenth century, Kānaka Maoli, or Indigenous Hawaiians, were intricately entangled within the lumber and salmon industries at key sites across the Pacific Northwest. They would prove integral to the environmental histories of the region as participants in trans-Pacific networks of commerce and a broader Pacific world of labor that included a maritime fur trade and later a land-based fur trade. Hawaiians in the Columbia District—and, later, in the British Columbia colony—worked in concert with British commercial colonialism in the Pacific Northwest through their involvement in the region’s early extractive and productive industries: timber, fishing and small-scale agriculture.

The trade that would develop between the Pacific Northwest and the Hawaiian islands from 1829 to 1859 saw native Hawaiians employed on forts and throughout the Pacific Northwest for the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). In effect, a circular trade that brought lumber cut and salmon caught and cured in the Pacific Northwest to Hawaii also saw the islands provide products for consumers on the coast. The HBC employed indigenous Hawaiian laborers as part of its growing presence throughout the Pacific Northwest in the nineteenth century. The existing historical literature on Hawaiian overseas migration often details stories of male servants and migrants, many of whom would ultimately become a part of late-nineteenth-century settler society in early colonies like British Columbia. Still, there was no “straightforward shift” to settler colonialism; if anything, the story of Hawaiians within this longer narrative sat for a long time along the colony’s “ragged” margins.


Read the rest of this article at Edge Effects here… 

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is an environmental historian of Canada and the United States, editor, and digital communications strategist. She earned her PhD in History from the University of Saskatchewan in 2019. She is an executive member, editor-in-chief, and social media editor for the Network in Canadian History and Environment (NiCHE). She is also a working board member of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society and Girls Rock Saskatoon. A passionate social justice advocate, she focuses on developing digital techniques and communications that bridge the divide between academia and the general public in order to democratize knowledge access. You can find out more about her and her freelance services at

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