More Plateau Indian Beadwork (Photo Diary)

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In American Indian cultures, art is not separate from daily life. Traditionally, the things people used in their everyday life-clothing, tools, housing, containers-were often decorated to enhance their beauty and their spirituality. Prior to the European invasion, the Indian people of the Plateau area-roughly the area between the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest-decorated their clothing and other items with paintings, with beads made from shell, animal teeth, bone, and other items, and with porcupine quills. With the European invasion, new decorative elements became available to the Indians: glass beads. These beads were quickly adopted into the cultures and began to replace and supplement both painting and quilling. The Plateau Indians soon became well-known for their fine bead work. Shown below are some examples of Plateau Indian beadwork which are on display at the museum at the Travelers’ Rest State Park in Lolo, Montana.  

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Moccasins:

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Gloves:

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Plateau Indian Artifacts (Photo Diary)

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Prior to the European invasion, the Indian people of the Plateau area-roughly the area between the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest-decorated their clothing and other items with paintings, with beads made from shell, animal teeth, bone, and other items, and with porcupine quills. Shown below are some Plateau Indian artifacts which are on display at the museum at the Travelers’ Rest State Park in Lolo, Montana.

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Shown above is an example of quill work. The design is made from porcupine quills.

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Shown above is a parfleche: a large leather envelope.

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Shown above is a feather bustle that was often used as a part of a dance outfit.

Drums:

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Cradleboards:

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A Taste of Native America (Photo Diary)

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During 2012, the Clark County Historical Museum in Vancouver, Washington had a display exploring the food and related cultural artifacts of the Native American people throughout Washington. Indian people traditionally harvested, prepared, and shared meals together and thus food was, and still is, an integral part of cultural unity.  

The traditional Indian diet was diverse and based on the seasons. According to one of the displays:

“Our ancestors ate more complex foods and received a greater variety of vitamins and minerals in their diet. Eating many types of foods also preserved the diversity of the environment, which helped uphold the entire ecosystem by avoiding overharvesting of any one resource.”

Shown below are some of the items from this display.

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Berries were an important part of the diet of the Indians of the Lower Columbia River area. Shown above is a basket used for gathering berries and some dried Huckleberries (Vaccinium membranaceum). Huckleberries are small to medium sized shrubs which are found in the moister mountain areas, particularly in areas with acidic soils and areas which have been burned by forest fires. Women usually did the gathering of the huckleberries and could gather one or two basketfuls in a day’s work (about 2-4 liters). Huckleberries were often dried over a slow fire that had been set in a rotten log. This drying created a raisin-like product that could be kept indefinitely.

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Shown above is an old photograph of an elder filleting salmon so that it can be cooked on a plank.

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Shown above is an old photograph of an elder drying the huckleberries in the traditional way.

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Another important food was bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva), shown above with a gathering bag (known as a sally bag). In the Upper Chinook Kiksht language bitterroot is known as ibi-uk-ee. The taste of the bitterroot (it’s “bitterness”) is determined by where it is grown. The stored starch in the root makes the roots both nutritious and tender. The white fleshly interior (seen in the photos above) is easily exposed by peeling the outer root coverings. The white interior is then boiled, baked, or powdered to make meal.

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Camas (shown above) was also an important food plant. Camas (Camassia quamash) is a lily-like plant whose bulb can be fire-baked to make a sweet and nutritious staple. Camas is very high in protein: 5.4 ounces of protein per pound of roots. In comparison, steelhead trout (Salmo gairdneri) has 3.4 ounces of protein per pound.

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Wapato or Indian potato is shown above.

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Shown above is a digging stick used in gathering root plants such as bitterroot and camas.

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Shown above is an open weave Salish basket which was used for gathering clams and mussels.

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Fish were an important food source and shown above is a model of a traditional fish drying rack.

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Shown above is an old photograph of a fish trap.

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Shown above is an old photograph of the fish being cooked in the traditional manner.

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Shown above is a drawing of Governor Isaac Stevens at a traditional meal with the Nez Perce in 1855.  

Ancient America: Mesoamerican Art

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Prior to the European invasion, Mesoamerica was the home to many highly developed civilizations. Geographically this is a region that extends from central Mexico to South America. Shown below are some of the items from these ancient Mesoamerican cultures which are on display at the Portland (Oregon) Art Museum.  

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Shown above are some labrets: these are plugs which are inserted in a hole in the lower lip.

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Shown above is a piece from the Omec.

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Ancient America: South American Art

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Prior to the European invasion, South America was the home to many highly developed civilizations. Homo sapiens have lived in South America for at least 15,000 years and possibly longer. By 2000 BCE some highly developed civilizations had emerged in the region. There was a dramatic increase in population during this time and the economies became more dependent on stable, intensive agricultural systems.

The Inka Empire was the dominant state at the time of the Spanish conquest. The Inka had expanded out of their home in Cuzco to control an empire which spread from modern Ecuador in the north to central Chile in the south. The expansion of the Inka Empire began about 1438 and grew by military conquest.

The ancient civilizations of South American are well-known for their metalwork, particularly their work in gold which the Spanish often melted down; their pottery, which includes realistic portrayals of men and women (including men and women engaged in sexual intercourse); and finely woven textiles. Shown below are some of the items from these ancient South American cultures which are on display at the Portland Museum of Art.

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Shown above are clothing pins.  

Southwestern Art (Photo Diary)

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The Southwest Culture Area is a culturally diverse area. Geographically it covers all of Arizona and New Mexico and includes parts of Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and Texas as well as parts of the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua. Much of this area is semi-arid; part of it is true desert (southern Arizona); and part of it has upland and mountain ranges which support conifers. Culturally, the area can be divided into four basic cultural traditions: Pueblo, Athabascan, Piman, and Yuman.  

In northern Arizona and New Mexico there are several Indian tribes who have traditionally lived in compact villages. The Spanish used the word pueblo which means “town” in referring to these people. The Pueblo people are not a single cultural tradition, but are in fact several distinct cultures. They share some features – farming, housing – and are very different in others.

Around 1400 CE a new group of people began to enter the Southwest. These Athabascan-speaking people – the Navajo and the Apache – migrated from the area north of Edmonton, Alberta.

The Sonoran desert of Arizona and Sonora is the home of a number of Piman-speaking groups, primarily the Tohono O’odham (Papago) and Akimel O’odham (Pima).

The area along the Colorado and Gila Rivers was the traditional home to a number of Yuman-speaking tribes



Pottery:

The pottery traditions of the Southwestern Pueblos are well-known to museums, art collectors, and others. For many centuries, Pueblo people have made and used a wide variety of pottery containers, including bowls, jars, cups, ladles, and canteens. Pueblo pottery is traditionally formed with a coil technique in which coils of clay are circled around the base of the pot to form the walls of the vessel. Shown below are some examples of Southwestern pottery on display at the Portland Art Museum.

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Perhaps the best known Pueblo pottery is María Martínez of San Ildelfonso Pueblo. Examples of her black-on-black pottery are shown above.

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Basketry:

All of the Indian nations in the Southwest produced basketry.

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Carvings:

During the past century, the carving of katsina “dolls” called tihu by the Hopihas become a major art form which is well-recognized in the art world. These are carved by relatives of little Indian girls and presented to these children at Katsina dances to teach the children the features and meaning of the Katsinas. Traditional carvers feel that those who carve the katsina “dolls” should be able to speak Hopi because knowledge of the language is required to truly participate in Hopi ceremonies. Without full participation in Hopi ceremonies, the carvers cannot know the true spiritual intent of the katsina. Some of the carvings displayed in the Portland Art Museum are shown below.

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Note: while the term “kachina” is commonly used, the tribe prefers the designation “katsina.”

Southwestern Art (Photo Diary)

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The Southwest Culture Area is a culturally diverse area. Geographically it covers all of Arizona and New Mexico and includes parts of Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and Texas as well as parts of the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua. Much of this area is semi-arid; part of it is true desert (southern Arizona); and part of it has upland and mountain ranges which support conifers. Culturally, the area can be divided into four basic cultural traditions: Pueblo, Athabascan, Piman, and Yuman.  

In northern Arizona and New Mexico there are several Indian tribes who have traditionally lived in compact villages. The Spanish used the word pueblo which means “town” in referring to these people. The Pueblo people are not a single cultural tradition, but are in fact several distinct cultures. They share some features – farming, housing – and are very different in others.

Around 1400 CE a new group of people began to enter the Southwest. These Athabascan-speaking people – the Navajo and the Apache – migrated from the area north of Edmonton, Alberta.

The Sonoran desert of Arizona and Sonora is the home of a number of Piman-speaking groups, primarily the Tohono O’odham (Papago) and Akimel O’odham (Pima).

The area along the Colorado and Gila Rivers was the traditional home to a number of Yuman-speaking tribes

Pottery:

The pottery traditions of the Southwestern Pueblos are well-known to museums, art collectors, and others. For many centuries, Pueblo people have made and used a wide variety of pottery containers, including bowls, jars, cups, ladles, and canteens. Pueblo pottery is traditionally formed with a coil technique in which coils of clay are circled around the base of the pot to form the walls of the vessel. Shown below are some examples of Southwestern pottery on display at the Portland Art Museum.

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Perhaps the best known Pueblo pottery is María Martínez of San Ildelfonso Pueblo. Examples of her black-on-black pottery are shown above.

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Basketry:

All of the Indian nations in the Southwest produced basketry.

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Carvings:

During the past century, the carving of katsina “dolls” called tihu by the Hopihas become a major art form which is well-recognized in the art world. These are carved by relatives of little Indian girls and presented to these children at Katsina dances to teach the children the features and meaning of the Katsinas. Traditional carvers feel that those who carve the katsina “dolls” should be able to speak Hopi because knowledge of the language is required to truly participate in Hopi ceremonies. Without full participation in Hopi ceremonies, the carvers cannot know the true spiritual intent of the katsina. Some of the carvings displayed in the Portland Art Museum are shown below.

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Note: while the term “kachina” is commonly used, the tribe prefers the designation “katsina.”

Woven History, Part 2 (Photo Diary)

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Old baskets are fascinating. They reflect traditions and skills, as well as changes to culture and lifestyle. They speak to us from the past and can tell us much about the weaver’s life and society’s values.

The display of Native American baskets at the Clark County Historical Museum in Vancouver, Washington, includes baskets from many of the tribes of the Pacific coast, Columbia Plateau, and Northern California areas. Shown below are some more of the items which the museum has on display.  

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Weaving was used not only in making baskets, but also in making hats as can be seen in the woven woman’s hat shown above.  

Northwest Coast Textiles (Photo Diary)

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The Northwest Coast peoples have a wide variety of garments which are worn during ceremonies and for special occasions. Sometimes the clothes are decorated with crest designs that show the wearer’s clan. Shown below are some examples of Northwest Coast textiles and weaving which are on display at the Portland Art Museum.  

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Some neckpieces are shown above.

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One of the best examples of Northwest Coast weaving can be seen in the Chilkat Dancing Blankets or Robes (example shown above). These blankets combine the twining of mountain goat wool and cedar bark with the images of mythological creatures. According to some experts, The pattern of the Chilcat blanket came from the Tsimshian and was adopted by the Tlingit, the Chilcat people specializing in its production, owning to the ease with which mountain goat’s wool could be procured in their district.

Traditionally, it would take a year or more to make a Chilkat Blanket. The blankets are woven by the women, but the designs are painted by male artists on special pattern boards.

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A pattern board for a Chilcat robe is shown above.

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This is another woven robe.

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A woven rain hat or canoe hat is shown above.

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A button blanket is shown above. This is a Tlingit blanket made about 1900 with pearl buttons and wool cloth. Button blankets were developed during the 19th century. Most are made of dark blue wool with a red pattern. The buttons are sewn individually to create the desired pattern.

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A pair of leggings is shown above.  

Plains Indian Art (Photo Diary)

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The Great Plains is the huge area in the central portion of the North American continent which stretches from the Canadian provinces in the north, almost to the Gulf of Mexico in the south, from the Rocky Mountains in the west to the Mississippi River in the east. This is an area which contains many different kinds of habitat: flatland, dunes, hills, tablelands, stream valleys, and mountains. It is a dry region and lacks trees except along rivers and streams. Plains Indians are those which are most often stereotyped by movies and other media as representing all Indians. The buffalo, the horse, and the tipi are all important items in Plains cultures. Shown below are some of the items from the Plains First Nations which are on display at the Portland Art Museum.

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While the moccasins shown above are common on the Plains and are frequently highly decorated, it should be pointed out that now all Indian cultures in North American used moccasins.

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While the Hollywood stereotype of the Plains Indians shows them riding their horses barebacked, virtually all good museums of Plains Indian cultures will include traditional saddles, such as that shown above.

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The ceiling in the Plains Indian exhibit area is interesting in that it seems to invoke the circular form of the tipi or the form of the Sun Dance Lodge.  

Northwest Coast Carvings (Photo Diary)

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The Northwest Coast is a region in which an entrenched and highly valued artistic tradition flourished. Northwest Coast art-carving and painting-has a very characteristic style. Most commonly, art is used for portraying the family crest and heraldic figures. Shown below are some examples of Northwest Coast carvings which are on display at the Portland Art Museum.  

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Shown above is a potlatch serving bowl. It is about 12 feet long. The potlatch is an expression of social stratification and so the lower ranking members of the society would be fed from the bowls at the knees and the highest ranking members would be fed from the head. During the several days of the potlatch, the hosts provide the guests with two large meals per day.

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Shown above are some of the decorated wooden boxes. One of the unique items among Northwest Coast Indians are kerfed boxes in which the sides of the box are made by scoring and then bending a single board to form the sides of the box. The single side seam is then carefully fitted and sewn together with spruce root. The bottom of the box is also carefully fitted and sewn to the sides. These boxes are waterproof and some are used for cooking. The watertight boxes can be filled with water and when hot stones are dropped into the box the water can be brought to a boil.

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Shown above are some examples carved serving spoons.

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Shown above are some carved bowls.

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Shown above is a drum with an orca design.

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Shown above is a cedar box drum. This drum was made by Tsimshian artist David Boxley about 1990.

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Shown above is an orca carving.

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One of the media used by Northwest Coast artists is argillite. Argillite is a soft stone which is found in the Queen Charlotte Islands. Shown above are some argillite bowls and carvings.

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Shown above are some large carved panels.

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A carved hat is shown above.  

California and Great Basin Art (Photo Diary)

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California and the Great Basin is an area of great cultural diversity. With regard to art, this is an area well-known for its basketry. Among some of the tribes, such as the Hupa and Maidu, woven baskets were used for cooking. The weaving on the baskets is so tight that they can hold water. When they were filled with water, hot rocks were used to bring the water to a boil. Shown below are some of the items from the California and Great Basin First Nations which are on display at the Portland Art Museum.  

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Woven History, Part 1 (Photo Diary)

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Old baskets are fascinating. They reflect traditions and skills, as well as changes to culture and lifestyle. They speak to us from the past and can tell us much about the weaver’s life and society’s values.

The display of Native American baskets at the Clark County Historical Museum in Vancouver, Washington, includes baskets from many of the tribes of the Pacific coast, Columbia Plateau, and Northern California areas.  

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One of the primary First Nations who lived along the Columbia River and along the Pacific Coast in the Vancouver area are the Chinook. Shown above is a drawing of a typical Chinook village scene.  

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Shown above is a stone mortar and pestle which was used in processing some foods.

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The people living in the lower Columbia River area were fishing people. Shown above are some of the stone net weights that were used to hold their fishnets down.

Shown below are some of the items which the museum has on display.

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More items from the museum’s collection will be shown in Part 2.  

Woven History, Part 1 (Photo Diary)

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Old baskets are fascinating. They reflect traditions and skills, as well as changes to culture and lifestyle. They speak to us from the past and can tell us much about the weaver’s life and society’s values.

The display of Native American baskets at the Clark County Historical Museum in Vancouver, Washington, includes baskets from many of the tribes of the Pacific coast, Columbia Plateau, and Northern California areas.  

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One of the primary First Nations who lived along the Columbia River and along the Pacific Coast in the Vancouver area are the Chinook. Shown above is a drawing of a typical Chinook village scene.  

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Shown above is a stone mortar and pestle which was used in processing some foods.

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The people living in the lower Columbia River area were fishing people. Shown above are some of the stone net weights that were used to hold their fishnets down.

Shown below are some of the items which the museum has on display.

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More items from the museum’s collection will be shown in Part 2.  

Cultures in Contact on the Northern Plains

In the late 1700s, Europeans began to arrive on the Northern Plains in Alberta, Canada and their arrival brought a century of great cultural change to the First Nations of the region. During this century, the buffalo, which had provided the Indians with food and shelter, comes close to extinction. At the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre near Fort Macleod, Alberta, displays on the fourth level of the building tell the story of the European impact on Native cultures.

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The coming of the fur trade had a far reaching impact on the people. One of the first traders to reach the Blackfoot was Peter Fidler who came among them in 1792. While he may have been the first European trader to reach the Blackfoot, European trade goods-metal items, beads, cloth, guns-had reached them several decades earlier. The traders not only brought in European trade goods, but more importantly they involved the Indians in a globalized economic system.

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The photographs above show some of the kinds of trade items that the European traders brought with them.

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The most famous trade good developed by Hudson’s Bay Company was the blanket. By 1740, the Hudson’s Bay Company was making a specially designed trade blanket. These blankets were heavier than other trade blankets and were made of pure wool. Each blanket was assigned a certain number of “points” based on its weight, and a series of stripes indicating the “points” were woven into the blankets. In this way the trade value of the blanket was easily seen by both trader and the Indian fur trappers.

Another change was brought about the treaties negotiated between the First Nations and the Canadian government. In 1877, representatives from the Blood, Siksika, North Peigan, Stoney, and Sarcee gathered at the Blackfoot Crossing of the Bow River in Alberta to meet with representatives of the Canadian government. Father Albert Lacomb, an Oblate missionary, was hired by the government to assist with the treaty. From the viewpoint of the Canadian government, the purpose of Treaty 7 was to resolve the problem of aboriginal possession so that those lands could be legally passed into private ownership.

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The Indians were given one square mile for each five people, and an allowance of $12 for the first year and $5 thereafter. The treaty ledger book showing payment to the Indians is shown above.  

Napi’s World

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Traditionally, the Indian nations of the Northern Plains, such as the Blackfoot, were egalitarian. Within Blackfoot society, there were no individuals, no groups of people, who were endowed by a god, creator, or other entity with any more rights than anyone else. As animists, they also viewed all other living things as people, as having souls. Within their egalitarian world-view, all people-humans, animal-people, plant-people, and others-were seen as equals. Humans did not have superior rights, they did not have dominion over the rest of creation. Humans tried to live in harmony with nature.  

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The Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre, located near Fort Macleod, Alberta, tells the story of the interaction between the buffalo-people and the Blackfoot. Visitors start their tour at the top of the seven-level building which is concealed in the ancient cliff face. Napi’s World, a series of displays on the first level, tells about the environment of southern Alberta and the people-animal, plant, and human-who inhabit it.

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Napi is a Blackfoot Culture Hero who transformed the world for the people. Photographs of Napi’s World and other animal-people in the Centre are shown below.

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Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre

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There are probably thousands of buffalo jumps scattered across the Northern Plains. The Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the oldest, largest, and best preserved buffalo jumps in North America. Located about 18 kilometers from Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada, the site tells of the story of the First Nations and the buffalo for 6,000 years.  

Buffalo Jump

Head-Smashed-In takes its name from the story of a young Peigan boy who stood under the cliff to get a better view of the buffalo falling over the cliff. The young man was soon crushed under the pile of dead buffalo.

While Indian people have inhabited the area around Head-Smashed-In for more than 11,000 years, it did not become designated as a National Historical Site until 1968. The interpretive centre was officially opened by the Duke and Duchess of York, Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, in 1987. The interpretive centre at Head-Smashed-In is an architectural delight and wonder by itself. It is built into the side of the cliff in an unobtrusive and aesthetically pleasing way. The architect, Robert LeBlond, received the Governor General’s Award for Architecture in 1990.

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The 2,400 square metre building rises for seven stories, but it is sunk into the sandstone bedrock and the prairie soil so that it is barely visible to a person standing outside. Only about 10% of the surface area of the building is visible. The concrete of the building’s walls have been stained to match the local sandstone and the portions of the building walls exposed above ground have been etched with horizontal grooves designed to simulate the natural bedding planes of the sandstone. The building does not intrude on the landscape and thus visitors are better able to visually understand the nature of the vast, open prairies where the remarkable story of this buffalo jump took place. Archaeologist Jack Brink, in Imagining Head-Smashed-In: Aboriginal Buffalo Hunting on the Northern Plains, writes:

“Built adjacent to the actual archaeological site, the Head-Smashed-In Interpretive Centre is a premier example of in situ interpretation of an archaeological resource in North America.”

The Centre’s parking area, which seems quite awkward for the visitors, was positioned so that it did not disrupt any archaeological materials.

The Interpretive Centre:

The interpretive centre at Head-Smashed-In has seven levels. The top two levels provide access to the trail at the top of the cliff and views of the area.

The upper trail leads from the interpretive centre along the top of the cliff to the kill site. The lower trail can be seen in the photos.

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Cliff Drawing

The drawing above shows the location of the kill site (designated as 1), a second buffalo jump (the Calderwood Jump, designated as 2), and a vision quest site (designated as 3). A cast of the Calderwood Buffalo Jump is the cliff face which is on display inside the Interpretive Centre.

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The view looking back from the cliff toward the prairie is shown above. The grass cover of the massive basin behind the jump is dominated by blue gamma and rough fescue. Both of these grasses are especially high in protein and are thus excellent graze for fall and winter. The buffalo jump was used primarily in the fall.

Upper Trail 3489

The lower trail goes past a tipi and then below the cliffs. At present the cliffs are about 10 meters (33 feet) high, but when the buffalo jump was first in use the cliffs were about 20 meters (66 feet) high.

Tipi 3577

tipi 3585

Tipi 3584

Lower Trail 3581

Lower Trail 3583

Each of the other five levels tells a different aspect of the area’s rich history. The interpretation is detailed and is told from the perspectives of Blackfoot elders and archaeology.

Explaining Indians in the 19th Century

During the nineteenth century the concept of the museum-its form, structure, and purpose-evolved. Museums began as simply cabinets of curiosities which were often glass-fronted cabinets in which a collection of unusual “stuff” was displayed. There might be a fossil next to an ancient stone implement next to a stuffed animal. These cabinets of curiosities were often found in the homes of wealthy individuals, in government offices, and in prominent businesses. Commonly included were American Indian artifacts, both ancient and modern.  

During the first part of the nineteenth century, museums simply put American Indian artifacts in their cabinets of curiosities without any attempt to explain Indian cultures. Sometimes the artifacts might be labeled by tribe or geographic location, but for the most part the displays simply held the artifacts for the curious public to observe. By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, museum curators were more concerned with arranging or grouping Indian artifacts so that they told a story. To do this, many curators used one or more of three basic interpretive models: Biblical, Racial, and Evolutionary.

Biblical:

When the Europeans first arrived in the Americas, they encountered peoples and civilizations which had not been mentioned in their creation story as written in the Bible. With an ethnocentric arrogance, the Europeans assumed that their creation story was not only universal, but the only “real” creation story. Thus all interpretations of American Indians and their histories had to be made through a Biblical lens.

As museum curators began to arrange American Indian artifacts in their cabinets of curiosities during the nineteenth century, there were some who felt that these artifacts should tell a Biblically-based story. Thus, with regard to chronology, artifacts were sometimes labeled as antediluvian or post-diluvium in reference to the Christian myth of a flood. Similarly, Indians were viewed as “lost tribes of Israel” or somehow related to either the Jews or to some other Biblical people from southwest Asia.  

Racial:

During the nineteenth century many Americans, including scientists, politicians, educators, philosophers, popular writers, journalists, and museum curators began to view the differences seen among the different peoples of the world as stemming from a pseudo-scientific concept of race. The way people behaved, they strongly believed, was inherited. Thus, human behavior was seen as being based in blood (which led to the use of blood-quantum as a way of determining who is Indian and who is not), skull shape and size, and skin color (Indians were assigned to a race called “red” and Europeans to a race called “white.”) Following this model, some museums arranged their displays to focus on race, with the clear understanding that the “white” race was somehow superior to all others.

One prominent example of this type of racial analysis can be seen in 1839 when physician Samuel George Morton, in Crania Americana, summarized his measurement of hundreds of human skulls. He demonstrated that “caucasians” had big brains (an average of 87 cubic inches) and that Indians had smaller brains (an average of 82 cubic inches). Based on this data, many scientists viewed “caucasians” as having superior intellectual capability. He describes Native Americans this way:

“The American Race is marked by a brown complexion; long, black, lank hair; and deficient beard. The eyes are black and deep set, the brow low, the cheekbones high, the nose large and aquiline, the mouth large, and the lips tumid [swollen] and compressed. In their mental character the Americans are averse to cultivation, and slow in acquiring knowledge; restless, revengeful, and fond of war, and wholly destitute of maritime adventure. They are crafty, sensual, ungrateful, obstinate and unfeeling, and much of their affection for their children may be traced to purely selfish motives. They devour the most disgusting [foods] uncooked and uncleaned, and seem to have no idea beyond providing for the present moment. … Their mental faculties, from infancy to old age, present a continued childhood. … [Indians] are not only averse to the restraints of education, but for the most part are incapable of a continued process of reasoning on abstract subjects.”

Morton’s assumption that brain size is directly related to intellect is later proven to be false. In addition, later studies could find no differences in the average skull sizes of people from Europe and those of American Indians. It appears that Morton deliberately biased his data by selectively reporting the data, and manipulating the sample compositions. In this way, he got the data to support his predetermined conclusions.

Morton

Morton is shown above.

Skull 1

Skull 2

Shown above are illustrations from Crania Americana.

Inspired by Morton’s work, Army personnel in 1868 were ordered by the Army Surgeon General to obtain as many Indian skulls as possible for the Army Medical Museum. Under this order, over 4,000 Indian heads were taken from corpses at battle grounds, prisoner of war camps, hospitals, and Indian graves. Any grave goods found with the skulls are donated to the Smithsonian Institution. The assistant surgeon general explained the reason for collecting skulls:

“The chief purpose had in view in forming this collection is to aid the progress of anthropological science by obtaining measurements of a large number of skulls of aboriginal races of North America.”

Eventually, the skulls acquired through this type of collection wound up in the Smithsonian.  

Evolutionary:

As scientists during the nineteenth century began to understand the concept of biological evolution, there were some social scientists who began to explain human behavior in terms of cultural evolution. Under their hierarchical model, contemporary American society represented the pinnacle of social evolution and all other societies were not only inferior but were destined to evolve or go extinct.

The concept of cultural evolution was developed by Lewis Henry Morgan who had earlier worked among the Seneca. In 1877 Morgan published Ancient Society: or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery Through Barbarism to Civilization in which he identified various stages of cultural evolution: Savagery (Lower, Middle, Upper), Barbarism (Lower, Middle, Upper), and finally Civilization. In particular, he put forth the idea that Civilization required the monogamous nuclear family and private property. Under this scheme, Indians were placed in either Upper Savagery or Lower Barbarism, depending on their material and political development. Morgan’s concepts were used in the formulation of Indian policies designed to “lift” Indians from “savagery” and “barbarism” to “civilization.”

Morgan

Lewis Henry Morgan is shown above.

Art Museums Discover Indian Art

During the nineteenth and the first part of the twentieth century, American Indian objects that would today be considered works of art were relegated to display in cabinets of curiosity with dinosaur fossils, stuffed penguins, and unusual geological specimens. By the 1930s, however, some museums were beginning to recognize American Indian art as a distinct art style.  

In 1930, the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff held the first Annual Hopi Craftsman Exhibition. Items displayed were required to pass a jury and participants were encouraged to put their individual marks on pieces so that they could build a personal reputation. Initially the Exhibition concentrated on pottery, basketry, and weaving.

In 1931, the Exposition of Indian Tribal Arts was presented at the Grand Central Art Galleries in New York City. The exposition was sponsored by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the Secretary of the Interior, and the College Art Association. The organizers of the exposition wanted to show Indian art as a traditional art form. The show included more than 600 pieces of pottery, jewelry, textiles, sculpture, paintings, beadwork, and basketry. According to the show’s catalog, the purpose of the exposition was to give the

“Indian a chance to prove himself to be not a maker of cheap curios and souvenirs, but a serious artist worthy of our appreciation and capable of making a cultural contribution that will enrich our modern life.”

With regard to the Indian artists who participated in the exposition, the news media tended to dwell on the quirks of the “quaint” Indians visiting the big city: according to some reports the Indians were said to be bothered by elevators. On the other hand, there were a number of news reports which respected the artists and their works. From the larger perspective of art history, Indian cultures were in the process of being discovered by American modernists. European surrealists were exhibiting their works next to the works of Native peoples and seeing in this indigenous art an expression of a primordial order that was often lost in traditional Western art.

In 1932, the Whitney Museum in New York bought Pueblo (San Ildefonso) artist Tonita Peña’s painting Basket Dance for $225. This was the highest price paid up to this time for a Pueblo painting. Most Native American paintings at this time were selling for $2 to $25. Her works had been exhibited the year before in the Exposition of Indian Tribal Arts.

Tonita Pena

Tonita Peña (1893-1949) is shown above. She was later know as the Grand Old Lady of Pueblo Art and was one of the most influential Native American women artists of this period. Many of her early works were done in pen-and-ink as professional materials were not readily available to her.

In 1932, the Brooklyn Museum hosted four Navajo and three Pueblo artisans who demonstrated their skills in the museum’s sculpture court. According to the museum, the Pueblos represented “innovators” and the Navajos represented “borrowers.” According to the museum literature:

“With the cultivation of crops as their most important occupation, the Pueblos had built up a rich mythology and symbolic art and a complicated ceremonial life for the purpose of securing rain for their crops. The invading Navajos took over the external features of Pueblo rain ceremonies but attached a quite different significance to them-the curing of the sick.”

With regard to popularizing Native American art, the The New York Times Sunday Magazine in 1932 featured Native American arts and crafts for home interiors. Readers were told how Indian arts and crafts were finding a growing appreciation among home decorators and furniture designers.

The 1933-1934 Century of Progress Exposition (also known as the Chicago World’s Fair) featured several Native American artists. San Ildefonso potters Maria and Julian Martinez received the Best in Show award and three noted Navajo artists gave demonstrations: Hosteen Klah, a medicine man who did sandpaintings; Fred Peshlaikai, one of the foremost Navajo silversmiths; and Ah-Kena-Bah, a weaver.

Hosteen Klah

Hosteen Klah (1867-1937) is shown above.

The 1930s are well-known as the era of the First Great Depression and both the federal government and the museums recognized the potential for Indian art as a form of economic development. In 1934, the Seneca Arts and Crafts Project was organized by Arthur Caswell Parker (who was himself Seneca) and the Rochester Museum. According to its original proposal:

“The Rochester Municipal Museum proposes a project by which the almost extinct arts and crafts of New York Indians may be preserved and put on a production basis in order that such activity and products may contribute to the relief and self-support of the said Indian population.”

The Project was set up in an abandoned school and the artists set about reproducing traditional items. Illustrations and photographs from museum collections and archaeological sites were used as guidelines. Parker was intent on maintaining consistency with the ethnographic record. Overall, the artists produced more than 5,000 separate works of art. For the museum, the Project raised the museum’s profile during a time of economic cutbacks and uncertain visitor numbers.

Not all Indian art was appreciated during the 1930s by non-Indian authorities. In 1936, a government restoration project at the Mission San Fernando uncovered at least two murals painted by Tongva Indians which depicted a hunting scene and other non-Christian themes. Church officials ordered the murals obliterated.

In 1937, Mary Cabot Wheelwright founded the Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Art in New Mexico. She had been permitted to record many of the songs of Navajo singer Hosteen Klah and erected the museum to preserve his medicine knowledge and his sacred objects. The museum is now known as the Wheelwright Museum.

In 1938, Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton, one of the founders of the Museum of Northern Arizona, stressed the importance of making Hopi silver different from that of other tribes. She wrote:

“In order to help the Hopi silversmiths to visualize our idea of Hopi design and to show them how to make use of and adopt pottery, basketry, and textile design to various silver techniques already practiced, we have created a number of plates done in opaque water color on gray paper.”

The 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco included an exhibition of Indian art in the United States and Alaska which brought national and international exposure to contemporary Native American art. The exhibit’s aim was–

“to present to the public a representative picture of the various areas of Indian culture in the United States and Alaska, and at the same time to give the living Indian a chance to find a new market for his products.”

Once again the emphasis was on Indian art as a form of economic development. Sales rooms at the Exposition exhibited Native American fine arts in contemporary settings, thus demonstrating their suitability for modern home decorations. Sixty-two Native Americans participated in the exhibition and the material exhibited ranged from sandpaintings to totem poles. Hopi artist Charles Loloma painted one of the wall murals which showed Pueblo dancers.

Pueblo wall murals also proved popular in other locations and venues. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, a series of mural panels were painted on Maisel’s Indian Gift Shop by Tewa artist Pablita Velarde.

The potential boom in Native American art promoted by the museums and the media during the 1930s was, however, interrupted by World War II. While the stage was set for increasing popularity, and profitability, for Native American art at this time, it would be another two decades before it would come to fruition.

American Indians and Museums

( – promoted by navajo)

In 1842 an entrepreneur named P.T. Barnum opened the American Museum on Broadway in New York to entertain the public with exotic and strange “curios”. Barnum and others considered these “curios” to be educational as well as entertaining. In addition to stuffed animals, the museum also contained Indian artifacts and presented exhibits of live Indians. The Indians were exhibited as public curiosities who re-enacted traditional ceremonies.  While the ceremonies were billed as “traditional,” they were modified to fit non-Indian tastes and to conform with non-Indian stereotypes about what Indians were, what they looked like, and what their ceremonies involved.

Barnum's Museum

While Barnum may have been one of the most flamboyant exhibitors of Indian “curios”, he was certainly not the only one. During the nineteenth century there was a growth in the number of museums – both public and private, both large and very small – which exhibited Indian artifacts and, sometimes, the Indians themselves.

Some Indian people bury their dead and they include in these burials many artifacts which were important to the individual. Many of these artifacts are well-made, beautiful, and strange to European eyes. For the museums in the nineteenth century and during much of the twentieth century, these grave goods made good exhibits. In fact, the remains of the Indians who were buried with the goods were often put on display as well. Non-Indians seemed to have a morbid curiosity about Indian skeletons.

During the nineteenth century, museums seemed to be convinced that Indians were a “dying race”, destined for extinction in the near future. Therefore, the large museums, such as the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and the Peabody in Boston, sent out expeditions to Indian country to obtain artifacts. From the Pueblos in the Southwest, these expeditions shipped boxcars filled with pottery, blankets, carvings, and other objects. In other parts of Indian country, they looted graves. At times the amount of Indian material coming into the Smithsonian was overwhelming. It was not uncommon to have artifacts stacked outside until space inside could be found for them.

During the twentieth century, museums seemed to view Indian people as a “vanished race” and their exhibits spoke of Indians as though they no longer existed. It is no wonder that museum educated people where sometimes startled when they encountered or read about Indians who were still living.

The focus of many of the nineteenth century museum exhibits was to demonstrate the idea of cultural evolution. Non-Indian Americans and Europeans were seen as the most highly evolved members of the human species and it was felt that the different Indian cultures represented lower levels or stages in cultural evolution. At the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, the ethnological exhibits ranked the peoples of the world on an evolutionary scale which started with savagry and culminated with civilization (exemplified by contemporary American society. The exhibits made clear to the visitors that racial typologies were legitimate categories for understanding human evolution and that racial types could be arranged in categories of savage and civilized.

Museums, like Hollywood movies, have tended to show Indian people as living in the past. Thus tourists to Indian country are sometimes amazed to find Indians driving pickup trucks, living in houses (not tipis), speaking English without the word “ugh”, and earning a living in the “modern” professions.

In the past two decades, museums have been changing. There have been two important factors involved. The first of these is that the tribes themselves have been taking control of their own destiny. This means, in part, a greater effort to record, interpret, display, and describe their own history and culture. Tribal museums often incorporate their oral tradition into the development and interpretation of the displays.

One of the finest examples of tribal museums is the Makah Cultural and Research Center in Neah Bay, Washington. This center was founded in 1979 to help teach Makah children about their culture and history. Their mission statement:

http://content.lib.washington….

1. To protect and preserve the linguistic, cultural and archeological resources of the Makah Indian Nation.

2. To provide policy direction in the area of linguistic and cultural management to the Makah Tribal Council and other interested organizations.

3. To educate Tribal members and the public in the cultural heritage, and language of the Makah Indian Nation.

4. To stimulate research which will benefit the Makah Nation and the academic community by providing a comprehensive center for the Makah-oriented research.

5. To promote economic development for the Makah Tribe of the Makah people.

The center also contains a very large collection of pre-contact artifacts from the Ozette archaeological site. Ozette was a Makah village which was partially covered by a mudslide before the arrival of the Europeans. While many people call this center a museum, some tribal members object to the term because they feel that the word “museum” carries an image of a “dead” culture rather than the living culture which is presented in the center.

Makah

Within the center, visitors can experience Makah life in a longhouse which is an exact reproduction of one found in Ozette. Explanations of Makah culture which accompany the exhibits show that this is a living culture, not just a tribe which is frozen in the past.

Another example of a tribal museum is the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center in Mashantucket, Connecticut. Funded in part by revenues from the tribal casino, the museum is one way for the Pequot to tell non-Indians “We are still here” in spite of the fact that many history books still speak of them as an extinct tribe. Using lifelike dioramas, the museum takes visitors into Pequot village life prior to the arrival of the Pilgrims. This museum is the largest Indian owned and operated museum in North America.

The second factor in the changes which are happening in museums was the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (commonly called NAGPRA) in 1990. This act requires a number of institutions, such as museums, federal agencies, and universities, to inventory certain categories of human remains and associated funerary objects. Culturally affiliated tribes are then to be notified of these remains and objects so that they can be reclaimed by the tribes.

NAGPRA jurisdiction includes Indian burials, burial artifacts, and sacred cultural objects whether they are found on federal, state, local, or private land. Items do not need to cross state lines to be subject to this law.

One of the implications of NAGPRA is that museums are now talking and consulting with the culture committees from the tribes. Exhibits are more sensitive to Indian concerns and attempt to explain Indian cultures and history from a perspective that takes Indian viewpoints into account.