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Gateway to Aboriginal Heritage Native material culture in Canada
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The Blackfoot owner of this striking garment must have been not only an outstanding warrior but also an ambitious man of great wealth - wealth that he lavished on the pursuit of sacred blessings and social prestige. In Blackfoot society, certain costumes associated with the spiritual patrons of warriors conferred these benefits. These leggings are unique in combining the distinctive insignia of three patrons - the sun, the weasel and the bear. The scalp-hair fringes and the painted stripes were the marks of the Scalplock Suit. It had its origins in the legend of Scarface, to whom the Sun gave the first suit of its kind as a reward for killing his enemies. Fringes of weasel fur and the tadpole symbols painted on the leggings were characteristic of the Weaseltail Suit, which bestowed spiritual powers of the underworld. Such ritual costumes came at a high price; for example, in the early nineteenth century thirty horses were paid to acquire a Scalplock Suit. Such magically protective garments were ritually transferred from warrior to warrior every few years, and were treated as sacred objects, honoured daily with offerings of incense. Ownership conferred the right to paint the face in a particular way and to sing certain songs during the Big Smoke, a prestigious ceremony in praise of the spirits. Warriors carried these suits, bundled, into battle, and donned them only as they returned home so that they might enter their camp in glory. [Treasures] (Blackfoot)

Floral designs on articles made by the Indians of the northern forests were once thought to be traditional native motifs. Yet, such patterns are seldom seen on items made before 1800, and were never present in prehistoric native art expressions. The designs on this mid-nineteenth-century Métis pouch clearly represent European flowers in compositions that are reminiscent of colonial folk art. This influence is not surprising when we consider that Ursuline nuns in Québec in the mid-1600s had started mission schools in which they instructed native girls in the art of embroidery. Truly floral art, however, had its genesis in the Great Lakes region in the late eighteenth century. There, Métis women living at missions and fur trade posts integrated realistic floral designs into their pictorial vocabulary. By the time the Métis had settled on the Red River, their floral artistry was so distinctive that they came to be called the Flower Beadwork People by the Indians of the region. Pictured here is a Métis octopus pouch - so called for the four double tabs at the bottom. Made of cloth, such pouches were embroidered with silk thread or beads, and were used for carrying pipe, tobacco, and flint-and-steel. Gradually, through trade and intermarriage with the Métis, native peoples began to borrow their brilliant floral motifs, and the style spread throughout northwestern Canada, leading to the development of several local variants. [Treasures] (Metis (tbv))

This necklace, from the Stony Indian Reserve at Morley, Alberta, was made in 1966. It is made from horse and elk teeth, wampum-type beads and a large conch shell all strung together. (Nakoda)

The native inhabitants of Canada's eastern subarctic woodlands - the Northern Ojibwa and Cree Indians - traditionally wore garments of animal skin decorated with porcupine quills, paint and fringes. They dressed their hair with ochre, grease and feathers, painted and tattooed their faces, and suspended ornaments of bead, shell and bone about their bodies. The garter shown here was part of this distinctive complex of native dress and adornment. It is a fine example of early artistic traditions and of the technical skills of the women who made them. The presence of imported materials - iron, trade cloth and glass beads - on otherwise traditional items suggests that it was made soon after contact with Europeans, possibly during the late eighteenth century. The garter is fashioned from dyed quills interwoven with sinew threads on a bow loom made from a bent stick. Such garters were worn as decoration, tied below the knee. Traditional eastern subarctic styles of clothing and adornment changed rapidly following exposure to European goods, technologies and fashions. Artifacts such as these are rare and irreplaceable souvenirs of a rich and complex aboriginal culture. [Treasures] (Anishnaabe, Ojibwa)

A pouch decorated with rawhide fringes and multi-coloured beads in various geometric patterns. This rawhide pouch is part of a dancing outfit made circa 1970 and worn in powwows. (Nehiyaw, Plains Cree)

This breast ornament is made using white, green and pink plastic beads taken from skipping ropes. They are strung horizontally and vertically using brown cotton string and hide. This breast ornament is part of a dancing outfit made circa 1970 and worn in powwows. (Nehiyaw)

This shirt is made from red stroud (coarse woolen cloth). A single rectangular piece is folded horizontally across the shoulders to form the front and back, with the seams sewn together with brown cotton thread. The panel is decorated in various geometric motifs on a solidly beaded opaque white background. Fourteen weasel skin fringes are attached to the sleeves. (Nehiyaw)

These moccasins have hard soles made of rawhide with upper portions and tongues made of tanned and smoked hide, all sewn together with sinew. Intricate geometric patterns of beads adorn these moccasins that possibly date around the last quarter of the 19th century. (Apatohsi Piikunii, North Peigan)

These plain buckskin moccasins are made from tanned and smoked skin in a two piece construction. The ankle lapels are sewn to the rest of the moccasin with hand sewn sinew and commercial thread. Skin thong ties are threaded through two holes across the tongue, emerging at each side. (Nakoda)

These buckskin gauntlets, with ornately beaded cuffs, were made in 1920 at the Stoney Indian Reserve at Morley, Alberta. The glove is made from four pieces of tanned and smoked skin. Structural sewing and appliqué are by all hand using cotton thread. (Nakoda)