Western Life

The Significance of Native American Cultural Items

When Europeans arrived in America, they discovered that the Native Americans had different ways of surviving the country’s rough terrain and harsh climates. In addition, their culture was unlike others that the Europeans had experienced previously. Their nomadic lifestyle meant that they had few possessions, but these items were made with great care and represented their traditions and values. These included:

  1. Headdress

In Native American tribes, the wearing of a headdress was reserved for the bravest warriors. Each one was primarily constructed of feathers and was unique in its creation. The feathers had to be earned, and were rewarded for acts of bravery that had been witnessed by other members of the tribe. The warrior would have to spend days fasting and meditating to prepare himself to accept the honour. His feathers would only be worn to battle, and a headdress made when he had collected a sufficient amount. A ritual, which included only the warrior’s closest male friends and family, was conducted to bind the feathers into the headdress. The feather which was treasured the most was one from a Golden Eagle that represented a message from the gods, and was earned through great hardship, strength or loyalty.

  1. Beads and Pendants

Beads were used in the making of jewellery, and decorative items, but they also served a more practical purpose in Native American culture as they were accepted as a method of payment for food and supplies. The colour of the beads denoted the tribe that each person was from. Beads and pendants made from stone were worn in traditional ceremonies, such as weddings. These, along with shell beads, were symbols of the Native American religions, which focused around the basic elements of the earth.

  1. Mocassins

American Indians wore moccasins to protect their feet from cuts, bruises and harsh weather conditions. Each pair told the story of the person that wore them, with the first normally being made by a close family member. The beading and quillwork designs had special meanings, and moccasins retain their significance in the Native American culture. Today they are worn at weddings, graduations and other meaningful ceremonies.

  1. Cradleboards

The Native American nomadic lifestyle meant that protecting an infant from both physical and emotional trauma required keeping them as close as possible at all times. Cradleboards were worn on parents’ backs to help them accomplish this. The back of the carrier, would need to be supportive, and was most often with wood and then covered with buckskin or a similar material. Each cradleboard was then adorned with amulets for protection, as well as quillwork which required great artistic skill to complete.

  1. Parfleche

Members of the nomadic tribes needed to transport their few essentials easily between camps. Parfleche bags were made out of rawhide materials, such as elk and deer, which had been soaked in water for a week. The pieces were then folded over precisely to achieve the bag’s desired shape. Like many of the other Native American possessions, they were personal items which were  made and decorated in ways that were unique to the carrier’s life experience.

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