History of the Art

Europeans first arrived at the Great Lakes in 1535.  In the 1600’s, the fur trade began.  After 1650, Native women began using imported broadcloth and ribbon.  By 1675, trade beads arrived.  By 1880’s the use of raw materials diminished drastically due to the scarcity of large animals.  By 1850, the seed beads arrived and were used for bandolier bags by the Anishinaabe in Minnesota, and soon became a wearable art form by other tribes.  Many tribes were exterminated in wars, integrated into other tribes through marriage, died from disease, removed to distant reservations, and were separated by the Canadian and United States border. The Great Lakes tribes are defined by a shared physical environment, a point in time when the access to goods were made, and the sharing of similar design patterns of our separate and distinct cultures.  A story can be told about each tribe from the garment of a woman’s skirt.  Each skirt is as multifaceted as the women who wear them. 

Through the variety of regional art styles, shapes and patterns, colors and symbols reflect the land where fresh water runs into the mouths of the great salt waters.  Art designs depict the edible fruits and vegetables that are included in our ceremonial foods, our spirit beings, clans, and animals that provide us with protection, comfort, and warmth during the freezing months.  Colors represent the rays of the sun, the color of flames, the color of the moon, and the moon represents our Grandmother and all women.

Minnesota’s history expands beyond state boundaries because of the connection between the people and their cultures.  I have been conducting research to gather the details of the uses and designs of clothing associated with the tribes represented in this show. The common thread of these tribes is their clothing based upon the availability of materials found in their environment, through trade, creating designs based on the landscape and practicality of weather conditions and every day life.

Migration of the Anishinaabe that also represents the main waterway from which the Voyageurs made their way from the Eastern coast to the Great Lakes.  It also indicates the Native tribes they met along the way and to whom the Great Lakes is called home. (Map: The Mishomis Book, "The Voice of the Ojibway" by Edward Benton-Benai.)

Migration of the Anishinaabe that also represents the main waterway from which the Voyageurs made their way from the Eastern coast to the Great Lakes.  It also indicates the Native tribes they met along the way and to whom the Great Lakes is called home. (Map: The Mishomis Book, "The Voice of the Ojibway" by Edward Benton-Benai.)

The Great Lakes tribes represented in this show are the Anishinaabe, Potawatomi, and Ottawa who are related as the “People of the Three Fires,” also are the Ho-Chunk, Sac, Fox, Huron, Cree, Metis and Iroquois Confederacy made of the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk tribes that live directly along the shores of the Great Lakes today and are historically related to each other not only geographically, but by language, military alliance, and marriage.

ANISHINAABEMOWIN (OJIBWE) IS THE MOST-SPOKEN INDIGENOUS LANGUAGE IN THE GREAT LAKES BASIN. 

Translated by Charles Lippert, Anishinaabemowin Speaker, are the names of the Great Lakes in Anishinaabemowin (as sited in the Decolonial Atlas).

The Great Lakes (The Five Freshwater Seas): Nayaano-nibiimaang Gichigamiin
 
Lake Superior (Anishinaabe’s Sea): Anishinaabewi-gichigami
 
Lake Erie (Neutral’s Sea): Waabishkiigoo-gichigami, also known as Aanikegamaa-gichigami (Chain of Lakes Sea)
 
Lake Michigan (Illinois’ Sea): Ininwewi-gichigami
 
Lake Huron (Iroquois’ Sea) Naadowewi-gichigami, also known as Gichi-aazhoogami-gichigami (Great Crosswaters Sea)
 
The St. Louis River (MN / WI), St. Mary’s River (ON / MI), St. Claire River (ON / MI), Niagara River (ON / NY) and the St. Lawrence River (QC / ON) are all called Gichigami-ziibi (Sea River), as they all drain into or out of a Great Lake.