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Fashioning diplomacy: the Anishinaabe, Britain, and 18th-century America

Video transcript

(piano music) - [Dr. Zucker] We're in the National Museum of the American Indian looking at this magnificent Anishinaabe outfit. - [Dr. Penney] It was collected by a lieutenant in the British Army, a guy named Andrew Foster, who was stationed in the Great Lakes area between Detroit and Michilimackinac, the head quarters of the British occupation of the Great Lakes. So in this important strategic zone where the British could control trade routes. - [Dr. Zucker] First the French came in, looking for furs in this area and were eventually displaced by the British. This was a very lucrative trade. Now this is a complicated moment. This is about 1790, so the United States has already declared its independence from Britain and there are tensions between the young republic on the East Coast and Britain, which controls what we know call Canada and this area around the Great Lakes. - [Dr. Penney] So the United States has been trying to claim its possessions and determine what the border's going to be in the Great Lakes and the British of course trying to protect their trade interests are resisting. Their allies are their native trade partners like the Anishinaabe also known as the Ojibwa, Chippewa, Odawa, Ottawa, all under the umbrella of the term Anishinaabe which is the word that in Anishinaabuem language means "the people", means "ourselves". After the revolution, many loyalists had escaped to Canada the border in between the United States and Canada was very unclear and contested in the 1790s so the British needed their allies, they stepped up their diplomatic efforts, they increased the amount of trade and all in response to the threat of the Americans coming from the south. - [Dr. Zucker] We use the term collected to refer to Andrew Foster taking ownership of this outfit but likely it was made for him specifically and it was made as part of ritual trade. - [Dr. Penney] Part of the relationships between the British and their Native allies would include opportunities for mutual gift giving and many of the gifts were clothing so the leaders among the Anishinaabe would receive military coats and other elements of uniforms, several British officers received complete outfits like this one and very likely in the ritual they are dressed from head to toe. It really was about mutual respect. - [Dr. Zucker] When we look at the outfit closely, we see this is part of an international trade network. - [Dr. Penney] The cotton shirt was in fact manufactured in Britain but the cotton the shirt was made from was grown and exported from the subcontinent of India brought to Britain the milled in their factories, with an eye to its export to North America, so the length of the shirt, the use of that floral patterning, all was intended to appeal to their native trade partners. - [Dr. Zucker] So this is being manufactured specifically to the styles that the Native Americans would be receptive to. - [Dr. Penney] Exactly, so if we look at the necklace with the two panels with thunderbirds, we can see that they are made out of glass beads, the glass beads were produced in Venice and exported but the white and dark blue color were an attempt to replicate the color and the texture of shell beads, known technically as wampum so we often refer to that as imitation wampum but they're beads created to resemble a bead that's made out of shell in North America. - [Dr. Zucker] Although the shirt was likely manufactured in Britain, it's been ornamented, it's covered with little silver ringlets which were also meant specifically for trade. - [Dr. Penney] We call them broaches and they're created individually and traded individually but then you can arrange them in these patterns, you can see kind of a grid on this shirt or clustered all over the headdress. There are also a number of objects that are made out of materials native to North America, he's wearing a little belt pouch on his sash that's made out of deer hide that's been dyed a darker brown with black walnut hulls and then decorated with porcupine quills, same is true for his moccasins where he has deer skin moccasins that are decorated with porcupine quills. - [Dr. Zucker] And those moccasins may not be Anishinaabe, they may be Huron-Wendat which speaks to the trade networks of the Native Americans themselves. - [Dr. Penney] And a certain amount of craft specialization, this is a kind of moccasin that we see around the Great Lakes, we think they were manufactured downriver from Detroit but they show up all around the Great Lakes area and we think they're made by Huron-Wendat women and then exchanged and traded. - [Dr. Zucker] And obviously sought after. - [Dr. Penney] You see the tremendous craftsmanship, particularly with the decoration on the vamp where there are a number of different kinds of techniques, the quills have to be processed, sorted to size, flattened, dyed and then are applied to the surface, sometimes in that zigzag rows you see on the outside or in very tight woven patterns. - [Dr. Zucker] They're really beautiful and they're a bit iridescent. - [Dr. Penney] And there's also an audible quality to them this fringe of red, they're attached to little tin cones that have been bent and that red deer hair is inserted so that when you walk they kind of tinkle. - [Dr. Zucker] And I see that also in the pouch on the belt and in the headdress and I can imagine that the silver broached also make sound and so I can imagine just how much this outfit comes alive when it's worn. - [Dr. Penney] The headdress is of a turban form, made of black cloth, decorated with those silver broaches and standing straight up are a series of eagle feathers. The feathers are supported by what we call feather sticks wrapped with porcupine quills and those wonderful red and sort of black and white checkerwork patterns and then attached to the feather sticks are those tassels of red dear hair. - [Dr. Zucker] It's what we're seeing is this astonishing synthesis of indigenous traditions with new imports and this willingness to adopt new technologies. - [Dr. Penney] This is really the genius of Native women artists of this era, they're taking these raw materials of these manufactured products, the wool, wool yarn, silk, metal and so on and then transforming them with a variety of different meticulous techniques based upon traditional techniques of working with indigenous fibers but then updated to include these new materials and new tools as well. Steel needles and most importantly scissors. - [Dr. Zucker] So we have cotton from India, manufactured in Great Britain, sent and reworked in the New World and then given to a British officer who would then bring it back to Britain and presumably even wear it, there is one example of a man wearing and outfit from this area in a portrait that is now in Liverpool. I find fascinating that these cultures that we often think of as so separate have such an integrated relationship. - [Dr. Penney] And of course that was the notion of the British Empire, to knit all this together where they were able to assemble raw materials from all over the world, remanufacture them or reconstitute them as marketable products. So Andrew Foster, lieutenant of the 24th Foot was stations in Mackinac to help this progress of British Empire and its commercial success. He left in 1796 and then we learn subsequently sadly he was part of an expeditionary force to South Africa and died in battle in 1806. (piano music)