One of the displays in the San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands, California, is entitled Sacred Earth and subtitled Understanding our past and honoring cultures that thrive today. Shown below are some artifacts associated with historic Southern California Indian cultures.
The High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon, has a gallery which takes visitors on a journey through some of the most dramatic periods in the High Desert. According to the Museum display:
“Thousands of years ago, more than one hundred Native American tribes inhabited the High Desert. During the early 1800s, newcomers began arriving—starting with fur traders and continuing with homesteaders through the early 1900s. A diverse array of immigrants added their stories to the region’s history.”
One of the dioramas in this gallery shows the Paiutes.
In major museums, only a small fraction of the artifacts held by the museum are on display and interpreted for the public. Most of the museum’s artifacts are in vaults where they are available only to researchers. The Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History maintains a Visible Vault in which visitors can view hundreds of archaeological artifacts. The Visible Vault includes archaeological treasures from Ancient Latin America, including a number of Aztec figurines.
The Northwest Coast culture area stretches along the Pacific coast between the Cascade Mountains and the ocean. It extends north of California to Alaska. This is an area which is the home to many Indian nations who traditionally based their economy on the use of sea coast and river ecological resources. The Northwest Coast culture area stretches from the Tlingit homelands in Alaska to the Tolowa homelands in northern California.
Today, the Columbia River marks the boundary between Oregon and Washington. The river was named for the ship Columbia Rediviva whose captain, John Gray, sailed into the area in 1792. Gray was the first of many Euroamerican fur traders who would invade the area over the next half century.
The Maryhill Museum located near Goldendale, Washington, has a display of Plateau flat bags. The Plateau Culture Area is the area between the Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and Western Montana. From north to south it runs from the Fraser River in the north to the Blue Mountains in the south. Much of the area is classified as semi-arid. Part of it is mountainous with pine forests in the higher elevations.
Long before the European invasion of North America, a number of autonomous, independent, and linguistically related peoples lived in contiguous territories in what would become the state of Washington. These peoples included the Yakama, Kittitas, Klikitat (also spelled Klickitat), Tainapam, and Wanapam. In 1855, the United States government forced a treaty on these people, grouping them together on what would become the Yakama Reservation and later forming the Consolidated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.
In looking at American Indian art, there is a different between tribal art and ethnic art. In his book Native Arts of North America, Christian Feest writes:
“Tribal art was (and is) produced by members of tribal societies primarily for their own or their fellow members’ use.”
One of the classic examples of tribal art is seen in the Plateau basketry hats. The Plateau Culture Area is the area between the Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and Western Montana. From north to south it runs from the Fraser River in the north to the Blue Mountains in the south. These hats were woven for and used by the women of the tribe.
As tourists began to discover the Plateau area, Indian artists became making basketry items specifically for sale to Non-Indian tourists. These small trinket baskets are a classic example of ethnic: tourists buy and cherish them because they were made by Indian arts, but they are not items which would have been traditionally used by the Indians who made them.
The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center in The Dalles, Oregon has displays of Columbia River basketry hats and small trinket baskets.
According to the Museum display:
“Native women of the Mid-Columbia have worn twined basketry hats for generations. Known as Patl’aapa, the hats provided protection from the elements, as well as comfort for cradle boards and gathering basket support straps worn around the forehead. The hats distinguished social hierarchy and expressed personal or family identity. As the tradition of basket making diminished, the basketry hat became a symbol of heritage reserved for special occasions.”
These small trinket baskets were made by Native woman for trade to non-Natives, primarily tourists.
Basketry is probably the oldest art form, although the archaeological record is devoid of the earliest basketry. In his 1904 book American Indian Basketry, Otis Mason writes:
“In ultimate structure, basketry is free-hand mosaic or, in the finest materials, like pen-drawings or beadwork, the surface being composed of any number of small parts—technically decussations, stitches, or meshes, practically separate from one another so far as the effect on the eye is concerned.”
The Maryhill Museum located near Goldendale, Washington, has a display of Plateau stone artifacts. The Plateau Culture Area is the area between the Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and Western Montana. From north to south it runs from the Fraser River in the north to the Blue Mountains in the south. Much of the area is classified as semi-arid. Part of it is mountainous with pine forests in the higher elevations.
Mesoamerica is the area from Mexico south through Panama. In this geographic area, a number of complex cultures emerged with subsistence patterns based on agriculture and wide-spreading trading networks. Like the ancient civilizations in other parts of the world, such as Mesopotamia, China, and Egypt, the Mesoamerican civilizations were characterized by cities, hierarchical governments, and writing.
The Treaty of Point Elliot was signed near present-day Everett in Western Washington in 1855. Eighty-two chiefs attend the treaty conference. Fifteen tribes sign over to the United States 10,000 square miles of their ancestral lands. Each of the tribes is to receive $150,000 in annuities to be delivered over a twenty year period.
The Point Elliot Treaty is signed by nine Snohomish chiefs. The Snohomish Reservation (later called the Tulalip Reservation) is intended for occupation by the Snohomish, the Skykomish, the Snoqualme, and the Stillaguamish.
Today the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve has the mission to revive, restore, protect, interpret, collect, and enhance the history, traditional cultural values and spiritual beliefs of the Tulalip Tribes who are the successors of the tribes which signed the Treaty of Point Elliott. Shown below are photographs of some of the displays in the cultural center.
The Tulalip tribes–Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, and others-have lived along the Salish Sea (Puget Sound) for thousands of years.
Two traditional Salish welcoming figures (shown above) greet visitors to the Cultural Center. The female figure shows an elder woman carrying a clam basket. The male figure is dressed in regalia holding a paddle, symbolizing the fact that that the Tulalip people are historically saltwater and river people.
One of the displays shows the importance of cedar to the Tulalip tribes.
The three baskets shown above have two design motifs that make them distinctly Tulalip: the whale and the duck.
The Tulalip tribes made clothing, such as the shirt shown above, out of cedar. This type of clothing provided protection from the rain. Shredded cedar bark was woven into blankets, aprons, and hats as well as shirts. Cedar barks strips were pounded into soft, workable piece. Natural oils, such as bear fat, deer tallow, duckoil, and dogfish oil, would then be added to the shredded bark to make it softer. To make their clothing and blankets extra warm, the weavers used a variety of fur, such as the hair of an extinct breed of wooly dog and mountain sheep wool, which was woven into the garment.
The drawing shown above shows how the bark was removed from the tree.
According to the display:
“We only too what we needed”
“Our ingenious ancestors crafted ideal fishing and hunting methods suited to the type of catch and environment.”
During the spring and summer, families would leave their winter longhouses and camp along the shorelines, rivers, islands, and creeks. During this time, they would often build mat houses such as the one shown above.
Salmon were harvested using weirs-fences made from small cedar, maple, or hemlock poles lashed together. The weir would be stretched either part way or all the way across the river. As the salmon swam upstream they would be forced to swim along the weir to the only opening which led into a fish trap. According to the display:
“Weirs were only as good as the leaders in charge of their construction. Our ancestors ensured a good catch by setting weirs according to the environment and the migratory patterns of the salmon.”
The display also indicated:
“Even though they could harvest a large quantity of salmon, history taught our ancestors the need to share the wealth and conserve for future harvests. They were careful to take only what they needed to allow the remaining salmon to swim to the spawning ground.”
The harvested salmon would be preserved by air drying and smoking (shown above).
Foods would often be prepared by boiling and steaming. Watertight baskets would be filled with water, then hot rocks added to bring the water to a boil. Salmon, shellfish, and other meats would be prepared this way. Steamer clams and mussels would be cooked on hot rocks and covered with seaweed to trap the steam.
The Tulalip people gathered shellfish, speared fish, and caught ducks at night using torches which they would set on the beach or in the bow of the canoe.
Shown above is an open basket which was used for gathering clams and small fish.
Shown above is a stone anchor.
The paddle on the left (shown above) is a woman’s paddle; the center paddle is a steersman’s paddle; and the paddle on the right is a hunting paddle.
Shown above are some stone mauls.
Shown above is a raven rattle.
By the end of the eighteenth century, the two largest fur trading companies in North America-the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC, headquartered in London) and the North West Company (Nor’westers, headquartered in Montreal) were vying with each other to establish trading relations with the Blackfoot. With their homelands stretching along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, the Indian tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy (South Piegan, North Peigan, Kainai (Blood), and Siksika) were in prime beaver territory.
In 1807, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark returned to St. Louis from their journey across North America with reports of the vast wealth of beaver in the Rocky Mountain area. At least a dozen fur companies were almost immediately organized to go up the Missouri River and establish trade with the Blackfoot. None were successful: the Blackfoot, with a reputation as being a fierce and warlike people, did not look favorably upon the American fur traders who were invading their land.
In 1846, Alexander Culbertson and his wife Natawista (the daughter of Blood chief Two Suns) established Fort Benton at a site favorable for trade with the Blackfoot. By this time, the European market demand for beaver was basically dead and the 60 million beaver which had inhabited the headwaters of the Missouri River in 1800 were now almost extinct. On the other hand, the market demand for buffalo robes was strong, and the Blackfoot were located in prime buffalo country.
Today there is a modern replica of Old Fort Benton on the original site-the original blockhouse has been incorporated into it. The warehouse in the Old Fort Benton is dedicated to displays on the Blackfoot Fur Trade. Photographs of these exhibits are shown below.
Shown above is a display showing how the Blackfoot captured eagles. The trap was baited with a dead rabbit. The hunter then waited concealed in a hole for the eagle to come to the bait. According to the explanation on the display:
“Golden eagle feathers were used by the Blackfoot for ceremonial regalia. Tail and wing feathers were collected by grabbing the eagle by the legs, pulling it into a hole and crushing it. It was high risk work, with injury from beak and talons almost a certainty.”
Shown above is a display of stone pipe bowls. The pipe is an important part of Blackfoot spirituality.
Shown above are Indian saddles. While there is a popular stereotype perpetuated by Hollywood movies that Indians rode bareback, in reality they not only used saddles, but also made them.
Shown above is a Hudson’s Bay Blanket, a very popular Indian trade item which was introduced in 1740. Each short line or “point” woven into the edge of the blanket indicated the number of beaver pelts to be exchanged for the blanket.
Shown above is a display showing the inside of a tipi.
Shown above is a medicine bundle. The bundle contains items which symbolize the individual’s personal spiritual power.
Shown above is a display of a sweat lodge. The sweat lodge is an important part of Plains Indian ceremony. The small lodge is heated using rocks which have been “cooked” in a nearby fire until they are red hot. Within the lodge, water is sprinkled on the rocks to create steam.
Shown above is a grass dance outfit which belonged to the Indian artist William Standing. According to the display:
“The legend of the Grass Dance began when a mighty warrior had a vision that carried him to a spacious lodge in the sky. The warrior found only a large white rooster inside the lodge. The rooster instructed him in the ways of the new dance and ordered him to take the knowledge back to his people to unify and bring them closer together. The costume consists of a headdress representing the comb of the white rooster, rightly decorated moccasins, and a whipstock made of wood and rawhide lashes which was used during the dance to punish the unruly.”
Bob Scriver (1914-1999) is among the West’s greatest sculptors. He was born on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. His forte was American Indians. As a scholar of Blackfoot Indian culture and history, he is known for his ability to capture historically accurate detail in his sculptures. He was given the Blackfoot name Sik-Poke-Sah-Ma-Pee.
Scriver’s biography in the Fine Art Dealers Association states:
An accomplished musician, Scriver earned his master’s degree in music, taught in Montana public schools, and played professionally in big bands before taking up taxidermy, which would assist him in his ultimate profession, sculpture. A student and scholar of Native American artifacts, Scriver is best remembered for creating a series of sculptures that chronicled the history of the Blackfeet Tribe, as well as a series devoted to rodeo subjects.
Scriver operated the Museum of Montana Wildlife and the Hall of Bronze in Browning on the Blackfeet Reservation. After his death in 1999, these two collections were given to the Montana Historical Society.
The Scriver family collection of Blackfoot artifacts was sold to the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton, Alberta. This collection included some ceremonial Blackfoot bundles and this upset many of the tribal elders. Alberta returned the sacred objects to the Canadian Blackfoot.
Shown below are some of the Scriver sculptures which are on display at the Old Fort Benton in Fort Benton, Montana.
The Blackfoot Beaver Dance is shown above. According to the display:
“The beaver bundle was the largest and oldest sacred bundle of the Blackfoot and is uniquely theirs. For years beaver holy men added parts and songs from other bundles. As the ritual grew, there were more and more participants. The sacred rites and songs multiplied to such an extent that the owner and his wife needed help with the ceremony. The part of the bundle opening ceremony depicted here is the Dance of the Beaver done by the wives of the Beaver Men. Holding beaver sticks in their mouths and carrying a stuffed beaver skin, they imitate a beaver swimming in and out of the lodge to the beat and songs of the rattles. Today there are too few beaver people to perform the complete ceremony.”
In 1832 Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied, with young Swiss draftsman Karl Bodmer and hunter-taxidermist David Dreidoppel, embarked on a scientific expedition to study the flora, fauna, and native peoples of western North America. In 1833, they left St. Louis on the steamboat Yellow Stone owned by the American Fur Company and began their journey up the Missouri River. At Fort Pierre in what is now South Dakota, they changed to the steamboat Assiniboine which took them to Fort Union on the Montana-North Dakota border. From here they went by keelboat (a human-powered craft) to Fort McKenzie.
Prince Maximillian was fascinated by Native American culture and they spent a month in the area. At Fort McKenzie, Maximilian met Bear Chief, a Blackfoot chief, who was introduced to him as a man who had never traded with Hudson’s Bay Company. Maximilian writes of the Blackfoot:
“They are always dangerous to white men who are hunting singly in the mountains, especially to beaver hunters, and kill them whenever they fall into their hands; hence the armed troops of the traders keep up a constant war with them.”
Prince Maximilian produced a book of his scientific observations made during the trip and an atlas of 81 lithographic prints done under the supervision of Karl Bodmer. A number of Bodmer’s prints are on display in the Bodmer Gallery in Old Fort Benton in Fort Benton, Montana. According to the display:
“Exploration on the Upper Missouri by Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuweid and artist Karl Bodmer provided a vivid description of Native American life along the Missouri River corridor before the Anglo-European culture had much effect. Bodmer’s precise attention to detail and his lithographs of individual pieces of clothing, weapons, tools and ceremonial regalia leave an image to accompany the details found in the Prince’s journals.”
Bodmer’s works are considered one of the definitive works on Native Americans. They are today considered as the most accurate accounts of the Plains people before their ways were changed by the arrival of the Euro-Americans. Photographs of some of these prints are shown below.
The Miracle of America Museum is located in Polson, Montana which is on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The focus of the museum-if there is one-is not on American Indians or the three tribes (Flathead, Pend d’Oreille, and Kootenai) which call the reservation home. However, there are some American Indian items on display.
The Polson Museum in Hoquiam, Washington, has a room dedicated to “Common Land, Uncommon Cultures: Traditional Peoples of Grays Harbor.” The Quinault and Chehalis basketmakers used both wrapped and plain twined techniques. Shown below are some of the baskets which are on display.
Shown above is a Quinault storage basket which uses cedar twining. The lid is Makah in design.
The Tulalip tribes–Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, and others-have lived along the Salish Sea (Puget Sound) for thousands of years. Dramatic changes in their cultures began 1792 with the arrival of the British ship Discovery. Several of the displays at the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve tell the story of these changes from the Tulalip perspective.
The initial contacts involved trade: the Europeans offered the Tulalip many different kinds of European manufactured goods in exchange for furs and food. The fur trade intensified after the Hudson’s Bay Company established For Langley in what is now British Columbia. Unfortunately, the European traders also brought with them epidemic diseases-smallpox, measles, chicken pox, influenza, tuberculosis, and alcoholism-which devastated the Native population. In a few short years, half of the population died.
The fur trade also brought over hunting which resulted in fewer animals. Then came the European and American settlers who ignored Native rights to the land and simply cleared the land they wanted for their homesteads. This culminated in the Treaty of Point Elliot in 1855. Eighty-two chiefs attended the treaty conference near present-day Everett, Washington. Fifteen tribes signed over to the United States 10,000 square miles of their ancestral lands. Each of the tribes was to receive $150,000 in annuities to be delivered over a twenty year period
According to one display:
“Not everyone agreed that signing the treaty was a good idea. Some leaders felt they did not have a choice and that signing was the only way to preserve their traditional way of life for future generations.”
A copy of the treaty is shown above.
Under the reservation system established by the treaty, the people were impoverished. Laws and regulations were imposed on the people as to how they were to live and where they could fish, gather, and hunt. The boarding schools were designed to destroy tribal cultures.
The United States government sought to exterminate all vestiges of Native American religion and from 1884 to 1934 traditional Indian practices were illegal. The Indian Shaker Church was organized on the Tulalip Reservation in 1810 as a means to continue Native spirituality.
The exhibits at the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve also tell a story of cultural revitalization: reviving Tulalip culture in the twenty-first century.
The Polson Museum in Hoquiam, Washington, has a room dedicated to “Common Land, Uncommon Cultures: Traditional Peoples of Grays Harbor.” Shown below are some photographs from these displays.
Shown above is an iron harpoon point. At the time of first contact with the Europeans, Indians were already familiar with iron. They made items such as the one shown above from meteorite iron.
Canoe paddles such as those shown above were designed with pointed ends. On the return stroke, paddlers rotated their paddles 90 degrees and kept the tips in the water to prevent water drips from spooking their prey. If done properly, the operation was virtually silent. In addition to providing stealth, the pointed ends also serve as stakes for the canoe when driven into the beach. The dark stain on the paddles was created by slightly charring the wood and rubbing it down with seal or salmon oil.
The Northwest Coast culture area is oriented toward water: both the ocean and the many rivers flowing into it. Before the coming of the Europeans, the villages were built near water, either on the sea coast or on a river. Transportation was primarily by water. Distances were measured by how far a canoe could travel in a single day. The traditional cultures of the Norwest Coast Indians nations, such as the Suquamish, is often characterized as a canoe culture.
The Suquamish are the people of the clear salt water. For more than 10,000 years they have occupied that area known today as the Kitsap Peninsula, Bainbridge Island, Blake Island, and parts of Whidbey Island.
Traditionally the Suquamish, a Salish-speaking people, were a maritime people. Since settling in the area thousands of years ago, they carried out trade by travelling long distances throughout the Salish Sea. They travelled northward to the islands, westward to the Pacific Ocean and down the coast. They travelled for fishing, trading, visiting, and warfare against enemy nations.
During the 20th century the canoe culture which had characterized Suquamish life nearly disappeared. Then in 1989, a revitalization began with Paddle to Seattle. This event marked the beginning of the re-emergence of many aspects of Suqamish culture.
Carriers of the Canoe Culture Through Time
There are many creation stories among the people: these stories do not contradict one another. In the Suquamish Museum there are six sculptures holding up a canoe giving homage to Carriers of the Canoe Culture through Time.
The two animals at the back of the canoe are Otters: they represent the earliest times of creation, when people and animals could shape shift and had the full freedom of communication.
The two figures in the center represent the Ancestors, from a time before the land was shared with non-Indians.
The two people in the front of the canoe are the Suquamish people today.