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Western Subarctic

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] (Western Woods Cree)

This doll's parka is possibly from Lesser Slave Lake. The tanned, smoke skin parka is trimmed with squirrel fur and decorated with beadwork. A pom pom of natural white, red and green wool is attached at the end of a strand of white wool through the peak of the hood. (Western Woods Cree)

This is a sample of woven quillwork on a bow loom. There are twelve warp threads of commercial cotton (instead of traditional sinew or vegetable fiber) strung between the entire length of the hand carved bow. (Slavey)

This whip was used by a team that traveled by dog sled on Great Slave Lake. The whip is made of wool woven over a wooden handle. The handle is covered with tanned caribou-skin and decorated with four wool pompoms, ending in a caribou babiche cord. (Tlicho, Dogrib)

Boot made of cloth and skin. The foot is made of smoked moose hide. A long tie of smoked moose hide is laced through the back part just below the ankle seam. The boot leg is made of vertically seamed panels of alternated dark-blue and red stroud. The apron and the upper boot leg are decorated with multi-coloured, floral pattern. Designs were marked on the fabric surfaces with a flour-and-water paste before beading commenced. (Tlicho, Dogrib)

Basket made and used by women for collecting berries. The basket, made in 1962, is made of birch bark, sewn with spruce root, with the rim reinforced with wood splints and the lid secured with babiche ties. (Slavey)

Originally from Fort Rae, Northwest Territories, and made in the early 20th Century, this wooden spoon is shallow, with a slightly flaring bowl. (Slavey)

This tufted moose hair embroidery consists of a rectangle of tanned leather with the rough side facing to the outside. It is backed with unbleached cotton canvas, and decorated with floral and leaf pattern in moose hair appliqué. (Slavey)

Game bags such as this one are made with an open mesh so that the snow will fall through, while still being very light and strong. A line attached at the top passes across the points of the shoulders and the chest while carrying a load. This bag is made of twined babiche, with broad bands of tanned, smoked skin (most likely moose hide) sewn around top and down the sides. It was made in 1905, in Fort Resolution. (Chipewyan, Tlicho, Dogrib, Yellowknife, Slavey)