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Woodlands & Eastern Subarctic

This narrow, triangular knife and sheath were formerly in the collection of Sir John Caldwell, a 5th Baronet for Castle Caldwell, County Fermanagh, Ireland. He served from 1774 to 1780 during the American Revolution as an officer in the 8th Regiment on Foot. He was stationed briefly at Niagara, than sent to Fort Detroit where he was made a chief of the Ojibwa and given the name Appato, The Runner. He also took part in a council at the Shawnee village of Wakeetomike on Jan. 17, 1780 and purportedly took part in councils of the Munsee, Delaware, Iroquois, Shawnee, Huron, and Illini. (Eastern Woodlands, Eastern Great Lakes)

The ability to run fast over great distances was important among the Iroquoian peoples, and remains a valued tradition today. Runners carrying messages of war or peace could traverse with remarkable speed the forest trails of what is now New York State and southwestern Ontario. Pride in this vital skill may explain why moccasins were among the most highly decorated articles of Iroquoian clothing. Moccasin-makers drew their inspiration from a rich treasury of traditional motifs and cosmological symbols. Cosmic motifs may also be present in these Seneca moccasins. Here, the double- and single-curve motifs above zigzagging bands suggest the Celestial Tree, which was connected with the creation of the Earth. After the Europeans arrived, beads replaced the traditional porcupine quills and moose hair as decorative materials. However, the basic structure of the moccasin did not change. Made from a single piece of tanned, smoked hide, with the heel seam sewn and the toe seam notched and gathered, the Iroquois moccasin aptly served the fleetest of long-distance runners. (Seneca, Iroquois)

These silversmith pliers are made of cast iron riveted together using a brass washer to form handles. Silver ornaments had become part of Native ceremonies and costumes by the end of the fur trade era. There were many Native silversmiths in practice by 1800, after being introduced to it by Europeans. By the early part of the twentieth century, only a few silversmiths existed, with silver jewelry becoming rare and only worn on ceremonial occasions. Today, many communities have begun to revive the craft, making both traditional and modern items (O-na'-yote-kä-o-no', Oneida)

The man who wore this painted caribou-skin coat may have done so to propitiate and honour the spirit of the caribou he sought to kill. He was a Naskapi Indian, whose people lived in northeastern Quebec and Labrador. They were semi-nomadic hunters, dependent particularly on caribou for food and for the raw materials needed to make clothing, tools and weapons. This summer coat is an unusually fine example of the Naskapi decorative tradition. Its elaborate designs were probably painted with imported pigments of vermilion and washing blue and with fish roe, which yellows with age. Before the arrival of Europeans, paints were made from plants and from natural deposits of red and yellow ochre. Such coats became popular trade items. This one was collected in the early nineteenth century by Sir Gordon Drummond, a British officer and administrator of Upper and Lower Canada for a few years after the War of 1812. (Naskapi)

The black-dyed hide used in these Huron moccasins provides a bold background for elaborate floral designs in moose hair appliqué. The curves along the edge of the design may represent the sun and the Sky Dome, which separated the temporal world from the world above. Made from a single piece of tanned, smoked hide, with the heel seam sewn and the toe seam notched and gathered, the moccasins aptly served the fleetest of long-distance runners. (Huron-Wendat)

The native inhabitants of Canada's eastern subarctic woodlands – the Northern Ojibwa and Cree Indians – traditionally wore garments of animal skin decorated with porcupine quills, paint and fringes. They dressed their hair with ochre, grease and feathers, painted and tattooed their faces, and suspended ornaments of bead, shell and bone about their bodies. The garter and knife sheath shown here were part of this distinctive complex of native dress and adornment. They are fine examples of early artistic traditions and of the technical skills of the women who made them. The presence of imported materials – iron, trade cloth and glass beads – on otherwise traditional items suggests that these pieces were made soon after contact with Europeans, possibly during the late eighteenth century. Traditional eastern subarctic styles of clothing and adornment changed rapidly following exposure to European goods, technologies and fashions. Artifacts such as these are rare and irreplaceable souvenirs of a rich and complex aboriginal culture. (Swampy Cree)

This frightening mask was used to keep children quiet at night. According to the maker of this mask, a number of highly ceremonial objects such as masks, rattles, and wind-making instruments have become simple toys in more recent times. (Naskapi)

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Spinning tops is an ancient game played around the world. This one inch top was made from part of a spool for thread, with the peg inserted into circular hole at the top. (Naskapi)

This distinctive doll was made in 1960 at Davis Inlet, Labrador. It is fully clothed in caribou-skin trousers, mittens, moccasins, and a hat. (Naskapi)

This Sun Dance wand is a reproduction of the original which is in the Cranbrook Institute in Michigan. It was made by Hadjégrenta, Gray Flying Cloud. The original Sundisc, collected in 1932, from a Long House at Sour Springs. It is most likely made of pine, the red face of the sun painted on both sides of the head. Hawk feathers are inserted into the holes along the circumference of the head. (Gwe-u'-gweh-o-no', Cayuga)