Sunday, November 21, 2010

CYL: When Old meets New- the Northeast Woodlands

(Note: Again, I apologize for the lateness in posts recently. This article was supposed to be up on Wednesday, but Tuesday evening found me in a car accident. I managed to walk away from my totaled car with bruised and cracked ribs. It has taken me a few days to heal and get my focus back again, so due to the delay the Native American Heritage articles will be extending into December. My apologies for the delays.)

A Micmac couple- note the hood that the woman is wearing.

Sgayno! Today we'll be looking at the peoples who inhabited the temperate woodlands of the Northeast- from the coastal waters of New England, around the Great Lakes to the border of the Mississippi.

If there were time in the month, I would split the Northeast (which covers a vast multitude of peoples) into Coastal and Great Lakes regions. However, common garment types were shared amongst many of these tribes, so I feel confident grouping them into one Clothing You'll Love article.

Historical Background
The Northeast was home to a wide variety of tribes with a wide variety of lifestyles. The Confederacy of the Iroquois were agricultural and matriarchal while the Three Fires of the Great Lakes were semi-nomadic. The Narragansett and Wampanoag fished along the Atlantic coast while the Sauk and Wyandot were expert trappers of beaver and muskrat.

Another aspect that manifests itself in northeastern traditional clothing is the vast trade network which developed along the many waterways of the region. Through rivers like the Mississippi, Wabash, and Susquehanna and the Great Lakes and their watersheds, goods from across the eastern half of the United States flowed freely. Shells and pearls normally only found in around the Gulf of Mexico have turned up in the possession of Ojibwe and Cree peoples around Lake Superior- over a thousand miles away.

While the tribes of the southeast felt the sting of relocation to the 'Indian Territories' (and some northeastern tribes, such as my ancestors the Potawatomie, were removed as well) the northeastern tribes were subjected to decades of dwindling. First to the frontiers, then to reserved lands, then finally to reservations often outlandish fractions of the territor they once lived on. The Saginaw Chippewa (Ojibwe) band, has been one of the few tribes to be able to reside on their original lands, and it is estimated to be 1/500th of the size of the land that was promised in the early 1800s.

Major tribes of the region include the Abenaki, Delaware, Narragansett, Powhatan, Penobscot, Susquehannock, Micmac, Cree, Shawnee, Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo, the Iroquois Confederacy (Oneida, Seneca, Onandaga, Cayuga, Mohawk, and Tuscarora), Huron/Wyandot, and the Three Fires (Odawa/Ottawa, Ojibwe/Chippewa, and Potawatomi(e)).

Basic Garments
In the Age of Steam, the wearing of traditional tribal garments was a patchwork idea. Some tribes had either vanished or become acculturated, such as along the Atlantic coast, so contemporary western clothes were de rigeur. In less settled areas, like the Ohio river valley and upstate New York or areas near the Canadian border wearing more traditional garments were more common or done with a mix of western clothes. Remote areas (such as the northern Great Lakes) held on to these garments longer, into the mid-19th century.

Native attire for men of this period would be a western shirt (sometimes calico, or plain with tribal decorations on the collar or front), a breechclout (a cloth woven between the belt and the loins then draped over), thigh-high leggings made from leather or wool (the grade traded to Native Americans was referred to as 'stroud' and often coarse), and moccasins. As said, these garments could sometimes be mis-matched with other western garments, as there is documentation of men wearing mainstream coats or even trousers with breechclouts.

Gadji-Nonda-He, Cayuga chief. He wears traditional regalia but with a trade calico shirt
Women wore clothing that also varied with their amount of interactions with 'civilization'. It was common earlier in the period for a woman to wear a calico or trade cloth shirt similar to a man's with a knee-length wool wrap skirt and leggings. Sometimes redingcotes or shawls were added to this mix. Later it became more common for women to wear a version of the same one-piece dress that their frontier counterparts wore, though tribal variations appeared. For tribes like the Potawatomie and Shawnee, a shawl-like collar was added to the dress and decorated with anything from elk teeth to silver.

Outerwear included match coats (shawls made from wool blankets, often highly decorated with ribbonwork), blanket coats, and for some tribes mittens (Ojibwe, Cree) and embellished hoods (Micmac, Abenaki).

An Ojibwe bandolier bag covered in embroidery and beadwork
Art in Adornment: Quills and Clamshells
There's a heavy amount of adornment in northeastern attire- which is one of the ways that some tribal groups can be identified. The Ojibwe were famous for their floral motifs and applique, first in dyed porcupine quills and shell beads, then in thread and glass. Coastal tribes like the Narragansett and Delaware and the nations of the Iroquois often used beads (yes, the ever-infamous wampum) made from shells of certain species of Atlantic whelk (for white) or clams (such as the quahog for purple). These beads were adapted into elaborate designs used on belts, headbands, and fancy dress. Further inland elk's teeth, bird bones, and tufts similar to tassels made from deer tail hair found their way into decoration.

With exposure to Western cloth, glass beads, and trade silver this decoration became even more rich and varied. An outfit could be any mix of traditional and traded (or found) materials, which did create rifts amongst certain peoples. Leaders like the Shawnee prophet, Tenskwatawa were fiercely against this adoption of "white man's goods" in daily clothing. This did not stop tribes like the Potawatomie from recreating traditional motifs in traded ribbon or cloth.
A Ho-Chunk/Winnebago girl in a heavily appliqued/ribboned dress
Crowning Glories
One of the most distinctive aspects of northeast Native American clothing was the variety of headgear and facial decoration. In the early Age of Steam in what was then the Northwest Territory, many people were still using accessories such as the iconic roach (a headpiece made from the guard hair of the porcupine often worn by warriors to make themselves look fiercer) and nose-rings (worn by both genders, in many tribes). Chieftains of tribes such as the Iroquois and Potawatomie wore otter-skin turbans, though cloth turbans were common amongst men of regular standing.

Kyo-Kaga, a Sauk chieftain wearing a cloth headwrap and traditional roach.

Hairstyles such as the mohican or mohawk (bear grease was used to get it vertical) also originated from the tribes of the northeast- once more a mode for warriors wishing to look intimidating in battle (Iroquois- the original punk rockers). Predominately, men kept their heads shaved, save for a remaining piece of hair called a scalp-lock. Later in the period however, short hair became common amongst men. For women, hair was kept long and braided as per tribal fashion (some in one braid, others in two) or sometimes in a 'club'; that is, wrapped up in cloth or ribbon.

Lena Cayuga, a Seneca girl in a shell-beaded dress. This was before being admitted to a boarding school in 1904.

Adapting northeastern clothing into steampunk:

-Matchcoats decorated with ribbonwork make excellent shawls or outerwear.
-Look at motifs such as geometric Iroquois beadwork or Ojibwe floral applique and involve that into your ensemble. It can be as simple as etching into a gun or as classy as applique on the revers of a jacket.
- Thigh-high leggings not only give a frontier feel, but patching the knees with leather would make a practical accoutrement for an engineer.
- Motifs using chevron, checkerboard, or diagonal stripes were often used by coastal and Iroquoian people.
- The Iroquois were some of the first Native Americans to adapt to silversmithing, and silver pieces were traded all across the northeast region as currency and decoration. Research or come up with your own silver trade pieces to have on hand or ornament your clothing.
- Calico shirts can be layered with other pieces or left on their own to suggest a frontier or Native look.
- Women would often decorate western-style dresses with stripes of traditional embroidery or applique along hems. Remember to research and not use the bad diagonal-box trim at Joann-fabrics... it just looks tacky.
- Ojibwe and Cree mittens are robust, cozy, and would make a wonderful addition to a steampunk ensemble.
- So help me I want to see someone use an Abenaki hood as a base for a pilot's bonnet!

Najuzegah- a Winnebago woman

An Iroquois family in attire embellished with high-stylized applique

A stunning pair of beaded Iroquois moccassins

John Deer, a Mohawk, and his family at Niagara Falls. Note the woman's embellished leggings

Helpful links: - annotated basic sketches of garments worn by people in their respective regions. Please note the dates of the sketches, which are marked on the bottom. - Official website of the Oneida nation, featuring a lovely culture section. - Tutorial on how to make a pair of Ojibwe 'chopper' mittens. - A Canadian website with many beautiful examples of extant native clothing that's highly decorated (scroll a bit).

1 comment:

  1. The beadwork and embroidery is really beautiful!

    I hope your ribs heal fast... take care of yourself :)