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Dress and Ornaments

 Native American Nations | The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society                    

While it is customary among many tribes of Indians to use as little clothing as possible when engaged in dancing, either of a social or ceremonial nature, the Ojibwa, on the contrary, vie with one another in the attempt to appear in the most costly and gaudy dress attainable. The Ojibwa Midē´ priests, take particular pride in their appearance when attending ceremonies of the Midē´ Society, and seldom fail to impress this fact upon visitors, as some of the Dakotan tribes, who have adopted similar medicine ceremonies after the custom of their Algonkian neighbors, are frequently without any clothing other than the breechcloth and moccasins, and the armlets and other attractive ornaments. This disregard of dress appears, to the Ojibwa, as a sacrilegious digression from the ancient usages, and it frequently excites severe comment.

Apart from facial ornamentation, of such design as may take the actor’s fancy, or in accordance with the degree of which the subject may be a member, the Midē´ priests wear shirts, trousers, and moccasins, the first two of which may consist of flannel or cloth and be either plain or ornamented with beads, while the latter are always of buckskin, or, what is more highly prized, moose skin, beaded or worked with colored porcupine quills.

Immediately below each knee is tied a necessary item of an Ojibwa’s dress, a garter, which consists of a band of beads varying in different specimens from 2 to 4 inches in width, and from 18 to 20 inches in length, to each end of which strands of colored wool yarn, 2 feet long, are attached so as to admit of being passed around the leg and tied in a bow-knot in front. These garters are made by the women in such patterns as they may be able to design or elaborate. On Pl. XXIII are reproductions of parts of two patterns which are of more than

Plate XXIII. Midē´ Dancing Garters.

ordinary interest, because of the symbolic signification of the colors and the primitive art design in one, and the substitution of colors and the introduction of modern designs in the other. The upper one consists of green, red, and white beads, the first two colors being in accord with those of one of the degree posts, while the white is symbolical of the mī´gis shell. In the lower illustration is found a substitution of color for the preceding, accounted for by the Midē´ informants, who explained that neither of the varieties of beads of the particular color desired could be obtained when wanted. The yellow beads are substituted for white, the blue for green, and the orange and pink for red. The design retains the lozenge form, though in a different arrangement, and the introduction of the blue border is adapted after patterns observed among their white neighbors. In the former is presented also what the Ojibwa term the groundwork or type of their original style of ornamentation, i.e., wavy or gently zigzag lines. Later art work consists chiefly of curved lines, and this has gradually become modified through instruction from the Catholic sisters at various early mission establishments until now, when there has been brought about a common system of working upon cloth or velvet, in patterns, consisting of vines, leaves, and flowers, often exceedingly attractive though not aboriginal in the true sense of the word.

Bands of flannel or buckskin, handsomely beaded, are sometimes attached to the sides of the pantaloons, in imitation of an officer’s stripes, and around the bottom. Collars are also used, in addition to necklaces of claws, shells, or other objects.

Armlets and bracelets are sometimes made of bands of beadwork, though brass wire or pieces of metal are preferred.

Bags made of cloth, beautifully ornamented or entirely covered with beads, are worn, supported at the side by means of a broad band or baldric passing over the opposite shoulder. The head is decorated with disks of metal and tufts of colored horse hair or moose hair and with eagle feathers to designate the particular exploits performed by the wearer.

Few emblems of personal valor or exploits are now worn, as many of the representatives of the present generation have never been actively engaged in war, so that there is generally found only among the older members the practice of wearing upon the head eagle feathers bearing indications of significant markings or cuttings. A feather which has been split from the tip toward the middle denotes that the wearer was wounded by an arrow. A red spot as large as a silver dime painted upon a feather shows the wearer to have been wounded by a bullet. The privilege of wearing a feather tipped with red flannel or horse hair dyed red is recognized only when the wearer has killed an enemy, and when a great number have been killed in war the so-called war bonnet is worn, and may consist of a number of feathers exceeding the number of persons killed, the idea to be expressed being “a great number,” rather than a specific enumeration.

Although the Ojibwa admit that in former times they had many other specific ways of indicating various kinds of personal exploits, they now have little opportunity of gaining such distinction, and consequently the practice has fallen into desuetude.

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The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society, 1891

The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society


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