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Trade Ornament Usage Among the Native Peoples of Canada


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Trade Ornament Usage Among the Native Peoples of Canada. Study describes in chronological order how the various trade ornaments (material culture) were used from initial contact to circa 1900 by representative tribes of the seven major native groups of Canada. Based on extensive search of published and manuscript sources, supplemented by examination of historical paintings, photographs and ethnographical specimens.

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Over the years, archaeologists have excavated numerous fur trade posts and contemporaneous Indian and Inuit sites across Canada in order to reconstruct the lifeways and material culture of their inhabitants. Analysis of the recovered artifacts has revealed that a substantial part of post inventories and the possessions of the native peoples consisted
of ornaments. Unfortunately, few of these items have been found in contexts where their exact ornamental functions could be determined. As this information is not generally available, the present study was undertaken to fill the gap for the benefit of archaeologists, material culture researchers, ethnologists and members of the general public who
desire to know more about the trade ornaments that once adorned the native peoples of Canada. Strictly speaking, a “trade ornament” is an object obtained either directly or indirectly from white traders and utilized for adornment by the native population. However, for the purposes of this book, the definition has been extended to encompass identical items presented as gifts by explorers and missionaries, distributed as part of annuity payments by government officials and sold in stores. Native-made ornaments fashioned from non-indigenous materials (such as bracelets cut from old brass kettles) and unique items of non-native origin (such as a sauce-pan handle) have also been included because of the important part they played in native adornment. The present study is based on an extensive search conducted prior to 1984 of published and manuscript sources, especially historical journals and narratives and early ethnographic studies, supplemented by an examination of historical paintings, photographs and ethnographical specimens housed in various institutions in Canada, the United States and England. To ensure the accuracy of the data, only material that could be attributed to a particular tribe or cultural group and a specific time period was included. In the case of published material, every effort was made to weed out sources that plagiarised information from earlier works and passed it off as current material. As little can improve on a well-written firsthand account, the words of the original observer are used whenever possible to ensure the accuracy and flavour of an historical account. Original spellings are retained in the passages quoted, but problematical terms and obvious errors or misstatements are elucidated in brackets.
Readers should also keep in mind that some sources are more reliable than others. Observations made by experienced anthropologists are obviously more reliable than those made by the average traveller. Also, narratives and other works written years after an observation are more prone to error regarding specific details than ajournal entry made
the same day. The same caveat holds true for the visual material. Illustrations in early books were frequently the engraver’s impression of what the author had seen or was describing in text, and they should, therefore, be viewed with a very critical eye. Later artists painting from life are generally more reliable but the fidelity of their respective works varies. For example, Karl Bodmer’s paintings of the Indians he encountered are about as accurate and detailed as one can hope for. George Catlin’s early works are
also considered to be truthful representations, though his later studio works show questionable 8 ‘Trade Ornament ‘Usage details (see, for example, Plate 15). Although the
romanticized paintings of Paul Kane show fine detail, some (such as Fig. 59) may depict individuals that are actually composites of several persons, if not total fabrications.
Photographs, it is said, do not lie but in the case of Edward S. Curtis, they fib a bit. In the portraits of certain Plains Indians, the same headdresses and unique ornaments are exhibited by several individuals, and the photos taken in the Pacific West depict costumes and ornaments that had not been in common use for many years (e.g., Figs. 106 and 107).
It is likely that other photographers used similar props as well. The reader is also cautioned about making generalizations based on the material presented herein.
Just because one individual was seen wearing a specific type of ornament does not mean that it was in common use. As it is the intent of this study to show how the various native peoples used trade ornaments through time, the material is presented chronologically by tribe (as defined and used by Diamond Jenness [1960: 121-3, 327n.]) rather than by type of
ornament. To facilitate meaningful intertribal comparisons of the ornaments and the uses to which they were put, the tribes have been divided into seven major groups (Fig. 1) that generally correspond to those proposed by Jenness (1960: 12-14). However, as McClellan and Denniston (1981: 372- 3) make a good case for deleting the Kutchin, Tutchone, Kaska and Sekani from the Mackenzie River and Yukon group as envisioned by Jenness and placing them with the Cordillera tribes, a change which Jenness (1960: 399n.) himself partially supported in retrospect, this has been done with a corresponding revision of the group names: Mackenzie Subarctic, and Cordillera and Plateau, respectively. The tribal range maps that accompany the text are diagrammatical composites based on Helm (1981 b: ix) and Trigger (1978b: ix) with supplemental information derived from Grumet (1979: vii), Jenness (1960: 406) and National Geographic Society (1972).

Author- Karlis Karklins
Edition illustrated
Publisher- National Historic Sites, Parks Service, Environment Canada, 1992
Original from the University of Michigan

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Dimensions8 × 11 in

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