Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Final Entry

Through this blog; I have gone over: Button blankets, the materials for creating a Button Blanket, the Southeast native groups, the corresponding clans, made a map of the clans, shown artistry, specified the styles of weaving and sewing a button blanket, given a few references, shown you a few of the button blankets in action (with relevant dances), shown you the misrepresentation of Native American (not Indian) button blankets, and my own personal experience with Southern Button Blanket.

I hope the readers of this blog have a better understanding of what Southern Button Blankets: are, represent, what they are used for, how they are made, and the cultural significance of Button Blankets. Thank you for reading this and I hope you this inspires you to proceed with Alaska Native Studies.

My experience

My experience with button blankets is probably only half as cultural as it should be. I lived in a village for some time. During school hours we were not allowed to learn about native traditions or values. But after school almost everyone was sent to a native art class. Where we learned about native art, culture, and stories. We lived in a small village, and whenever someone would throw a pot latch; everyone was invited. My mother told us to get our button blankets and we'd go. We were taught that our blankets were supposed to be some kind of other worldly blanket and it would help us some how. I distinctly remember dancing to a hunting song. Me and my brother were supposed to find our way through some kind of forest, hunting for animals. I remember a few elders with seal drums. It confused me a little bit because a few of them played them upside down or with their wrists.

Labels for button blankets

I'm not quite sure what to title this post with but I did my best. In my research about button blankets for Native Americans in Southeast Alaska; there seems to be a bit of confusion. A lot of sources and elementary school teachers are, not necessarily wrong, but misinterpreted. Some Native Americans may take the term "Indian" as offense or will say they are not "Indian" whatsoever. In my research, the term "Indian" came up at least eighty percent of the time. The sad thing is that these sources are mainly located in Washington state. I pointed out school teachers for a specific reason; many of the lesson plans or classes are doing kid versions of button blankets.

The instructions are simple enough, but the term "Alaska Indian" or "Northwest Coast Indian." This is an improper term for research sake and some tribes might find it offensive. It was difficult trying to find reliable sources; I didn't think of typing in "Alaska Indian" while searching. I was taught that "Native American" was the proper term and that it was appropriate when addressing topics such as button blankets. I didn't feel very comfortable using sources that had "Indian" in the title; that wasn't how I was taught to respectfully address a Native American. With this all in mind; whenever I tried searching for "Native Button Blankets" the term "Indian" showed up the majority of the time.

Sources that should be corrected or not to be confused with "Indian":

How to make a Northwest Indian Button Blanket

Button Blanket | Ask.com Encyclopedia

The Killerwhale Dance Group: The Eagle Song

The dancers in this video belong to the Killer Whale Dance Group (clan). And perform the Eagle song. Note how the Killer Whale or Black Fish is designed on the dancers blankets. Lacking in buttons; this group either is trying to modernize they're type of button blanket or did not have time to finish said blankets. The dancers are Tsimshian, and if you have been keeping up so far in this blog you will remember that Killer Whale (Black Fish) clan belongs to the Tsimshian phratry.

Tlingit Dance

In the video above you will see some native Tlingit dancers. Note that all of the dancers are wearing traditional button blankets. Or modernized button blankets. The reason some or the majority of all the dancers have blank blankets is that the majority of them most likely didn't have enough time to finish sewing on their clan crest. The bear pelt indicates that they are most likely from the Bear clan. The dance performed in this video is called the "Hoonah." Much like the town of Alaska. Other clues may indicate that these Tlingit dancers belong to the Snail House in Hoonah.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Chilkat Weaving!

Chilkat weaving can be applied to blankets, robes, dance tunics, aprons, leggings, shirts, vests, bags, hats, and wall-hangings. Traditionally, chiefs would wear Chilkat blankets during potlatch ceremonies. Chilkat weaving is one of the most complex weaving techniques in the world. It is unique in that the artist can create curvilinear and circular forms within the weave itself. A Chilkat blanket can take a year to weave. Traditionally mountain goat wool, dog fur, and yellow cedar bark are used in Chilkat weaving. Today sheep wool might be used.

Haida Dancing

Above is a video highlighting a Haida dance. Note that the first set of dancers are all wearing modern versions of button blankets. The after effects of colonial influence and take over are shown in this video. But the spirit of the Haida people isn't broken; can you see the enthusiasm of the younger generation as they jump in, with or without the traditional wear? This video, like many, highlights that the healing is just beginning and things are looking up!

An excerpt from Dorothy Grant

"All Northwest Coast native peoples have gone through similar assimilation and change. Our elders were constantly giving us the message to adapt to the white man's ways, to speak their language, their laws and religion, etc. It is a recent change where they are opening up old knowledge to us, and as the succeeding generation they have offered us this new cloak to wear."

It is the button blanket. With about a hundred and sixty years of history, it has survived the changes. "To me, it is the symbol of that change" Dorothy Grant (1993).

Doreen J., & Dorothy G. (1993) Robes of Power: Totem Poles on Cloth. Council of Canada: 'Ksan Publication.

A bit of Haida blanket history

The first items the Haida wanted from white traders were iron blades to make their wood carving easier and later they wanted cloth blankets, and buttons. Freda Diesing (1993) states that "After 1880, missionary influence and the law discouraged the Haida people from using their blankets and other traditional garments; many were sold to museums. After 1950, some people started making button blankets again." By at least 1970, many people had button blankets again, and this led to the revival of the dances some ceremonies, but it cannot have the same meanings as it did originally. Much of the past has been forgotten.

Doreen J., & Freda Diesing (1993) Robes of Power: Totem Poles on Cloth. Canada Council: 'Ksan Publications

The style!

Congrats! You've made a button blanket! And it only took you a couple minutes, fancy that! Normally it would take at least a year to make a blanket such as this; imagine not being able to do this with out a sewing machine or pins. On average, button blankets take about 1 to 5 years to complete.

I'm making a blanket but what do I use?

Alright so now that we all know which clan we belong to, who we're supposed to enemies with, and who that lucky lady or gent will be; lets make an actual blanket! What you will need to make a blanket depends on what you want to use. Before colonial contact with the Russians in the 1700-1800s Native (button blankets) "robes were made of mountain goat wool and cedar warps." After colonial contact Native Americans traded with the Hudson Bay Company. During the fur trade; in exchange for sea otter fur; the natives would receive blankets, glass beads and Mother-of-pearl, dentalium and abalone shells.

Alex, B. "Northwest Coast Culture" include the Eyak, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian culture Retrieved November 29, 2010 from AAANativeArts

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Regalia Mapping

This table represents how the clans of the Southeast part of Alaska equate to each other. In terms of Regalia, Totem pole, and family crest; the “>” represents that the two clans would be opposites or bitter enemies. The “=” means that those two clans equate to each other. Meaning that they are not of the same blood and are able to marry with one another.











Killer Whale/Wolf>Raven/Eagle

Killer Whale/Wolf/Raven/Eagle

Killer Whale/Wolf>Raven/Eagle

Killer Whale/Wolf>Eagle/Raven











Thursday, November 25, 2010

Clans? Which am I?

The easiest way to follow the clan system is this. Each South East Native group consists of Tlingit, Eyak, and Haida. And within those clans exists two branches. For the Eyak, they were halved into moieties “two halves of one whole”, the Raven and Eagle Clans. The Tlingit had Raven or Crow and Eagle or Wolf; depending on the time period. And finally the Haida have two moieties Eagle and Raven plus many other clans under each moiety. Each of these clans has their family “crest” designed on their regalia or native button blanket.

I didn't list the Tsimshian or Gitksan above because they have a phratry system of clans “four groups instead of two.” In the Tsimshian clan system consists of; Killer whale (Black Fish), Wolf, Raven, and Eagle. In the Gitksan clan system consists of; Fireweed, Wolf, Raven, and Eagle.

By identifying all these groups of clans you are able to determine who was to marry who and who were bitter enemies. In my next entry I will have almost successfully mapped out a table to show how each of these native groups equate to each other just by looking at their regalia! Imagine you as a child and you wouldn't even need a table; naturally you could identify who was who!

The Alaska Native Heritage Museum (2010) Cultures of Alaska-Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian Retrieved November 29, 2010, from The Alaska Native Heritage Museum

Friday, November 12, 2010

The colors have meaning..

The button blanket is normally made with 3 colors; red, black, and white. In pre-colonial times, some blankets were made with blue duffel instead of black. All the colors have a certain spiritual meaning to them.

Red; is the border lining of the button blanket and outline for the design. The color Red, represents super natural power, wealth, and nobility.

Black; the black background was believed to make the wearer invincible. And Death, when letting go of bad thoughts and behavior. It is also a form of dying and being reborn.

White; the white buttons represented peace, harmony, and balance. They also formed the family crest, and were sown onto the red border lining of the blanket.

Blue; blue duffel blankets are related to Father Sky and Flying beings.

Purple; purple duffel blankets represents wisdom of the ages.

D., Jensen, & P., Sargeant (Robes of Power) [1993]

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What is a button blanket?

What exactly is a button blanket? Besides buttons, its just a normal blanket right? Wrong. A southern button blanket is used mainly for ceremonial purposes, instead of proper sleeping gear. Ceremonies like; Potlatches, Totem Pole raisings, Ceremonial Dances, Naming Ceremonies and Memorials. Button Blankets represent family crests, proclaim rank, and social status in the community.