True North Mapping: A Fur Trade Lesson

This lesson is supported with materials from the Minnesota Historical Society's education department. It is meant to provide information to the students on the roles of Ojibwe during the fur trade era and the geographical importance of trade posts, natural resources and trade costs. Students explore these questions through the act of mapping the great Lakes trading locations.

Materials Needed


Art Materials

Activity Process


We explore the local maps and historic resources to learn about Minnesota's rich fur trade history and the critical role that geography played.


Showcase some of the resources and maps we will be using to learn from. The MN historical website plays a huge piece of this project, so showcasing that resource is important.


  1. Give background on the North American Fur Trade
  2. Break students into small groups
  3. Ask them to imagine that they are leaders of an Ojibwe village in 1750.
  4. Ask questions about where they think is the best place to live
  5. Ask what factors to consider when choosing a place to live
  6. Day 1 Indian Food Sources- draw a radius 100 miles wide where you think the best resources would be provided.
  7. Day 1 Ojibwe Migration (ask students to journals about where the Ojibwe traveled from and to where, the time frame)
  8. Day 2 Fur trade routes (map the well traveled routes on a class map and portages)
  9. Day 2 Fur trade posts (Patterns of locations)
  10. Day 2 Fur trade animals (demands for natural resources)
  11. Day 3 Fur trade ledger (cost of pelts and trades)
  12. Use Ojibwe words for animal furs (vocab)
  13. Day 3 Fur trade goods (trade objects)
  14. Day 3 Final activity- fur trade letter


The lesson will be brought to closure by completing the final activity; analyzing different maps and then answering a series of questions. They will also write a letter where they imagine that they are a fur trader writing back to the company head quarters about their arrival at the fur trade post. They will describe all the factors they explored in the previous days. When we finish, we will visit the Northwest Fur Post in Pine City, MN


Students will use the knowledge they learn each day to complete tasks for the following day. This scaffolding lesson requires students to build up their knowledge for the final project.

Vocabulary Words


The students liked this lesson because it used the smart board. They were able to apply a lot of prior knowledge and what they know about the land around here to the map exercises. Their final letters were very creative. They especially liked looking at the actual fur trader's ledger and artifacts. The Pine City trip was also a success.

Grade Levels

Primary Content Area

American Indian Learner Outcomes

Content Standards


Language Arts



Social Studies