Renewing What They Gave Us

renewing what they gave us Blog

Native American Collections at the Minnesota Historical Society


Native American cultural practices are passed down from one generation to the next. Native people choose what to retain and what to alter as they express themselves while paying respect to those who came before them. MNHS assists Native people in connecting with works created by their ancestors and provides support for learning, practicing, teaching and recovering culture.

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Lace Making

By: Rita Walaszek | Objects/Works | January 22, 2019

Episcopal Missionaries teaching Ojibwe women lace-making, Leech Lake, 1894. 

Janette (Jeannette) Crooks displaying Battenberg lace piece at Birch Coulee Mission, circa 1900. 

The Episcopal church in Minnesota had a great presence among the Native American communities throughout the state in the mid to late 19th century. A few of the women who belonged to the church took initiative to attempt to teach Ojibwe and Dakota women to learn lace making. The Minnesota Historical Society has a collection of over 50 pieces of lace and lace making tools from this initiative as well as many photographs of the lace makers.

Please visit MNopedia to learn more about the Sybil Carter Indian Lace Association.


Faux Pockets on Bandolier Bags

By: Rita Walaszek | Objects/Works | December 12, 2018

An exhibit label discussing the inclusion of a pocket. 

Example of bandolier bag with faux pocket. 

A bag is classified as an object intended to carry items and have some sort of opening and closing. Bandolier bags are no exception to this rule as initially being able to carry items in a pocket of some sort. Over the time of their popularity (1860-1930 respectively) much of the style of the bag changed. With this, was the inclusion of a pocket. While the pocket itself did not retain in some bandolier bags, there was still a representation of a pocket. This representation commonly was made with a few lines of beads where a pocket would normally be. There are even a few bags with no front pocket, but a pocket in the back to maintain it's functional use. 

To learn more about bandolier bags, read the book on our bandolier bag collection by former MNHS Curator, Marcia Anderson titled A Bag Worth a Pony. And also visit our Collections Online.

New Acquisition from April Stone

By: Rita Walaszek | NAAIR Program | December 4, 2018

Basket in workshop. 

As part of the Native American Artist-in-Residence, MNHS acquires pieces of work from each artist to add to the contemporary Native collections. April Stone, Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, is a prolific ash basket maker. As part of her residency, she studied historic baskets made both by indigenous and non-indigenous people and from various materials.

One part of her residency was to have an artist space to show her working on an ash burial basket. April logged 115 hours on this project using scissors, an awl and a knife as her primary tools. While not the traditional funerary practices for Ojibwe people, the message of the burial basket is beyond just traditional death. Ash trees have been affected by the Emerald Ash Borer as of late, this then means that there are not as many ash trees available to make baskets. If this trend continues, the creation of ash baskets is threatened.

April’s statement on the burial basket

“The idea to weave a vessel depicting a symbol for death came a few years ago when I realized that the ONE material that I harvested from the swamps and processed by hand for nearly 20 years was THE main food source for a tiny green bug that was introduced to our shores from a foreign land sometime around 1999. The idea to weave a vessel of this size was something I had never attempted before but felt strongly about because the death of this natural material in its native landscape felt imminent. Since I had not heard of anybody weaving a vessel of this size before, I sought to weave the vision that was dancing around in my head.”


Identifying Plants in Beadwork

By: Rita Walaszek | Objects/Works | October 23, 2018

Native foods table accent by Jessica Gokey, 2014.

2014-15 Native American Artist-in-Residence Jessica Gokey (Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe) was inspired by the beadwork in our collections and the revitalization of indigenous foods to create this table accent. With over 25 different flowers, berries and plants from the Great Lakes area, the table accent represents the many traditions of Native American people in the region.

Jessica’s statement about piece: “I was really inspired by Sean’s [Sean Sherman, the Sioux Chef] mission as a chef using indigenous foods, and I wanted to make a piece that celebrates the nature that has helped sustain our people. The tablecloth I am creating incorporates nearly twenty plants, berries, and herbs that are indigenous to this region -  many are the same regional foods that are used in Sean's dishes.“

To learn more about the Native American Artist-in-Residence program, visit our site.

Close up of sunflower 

Close up of juniper, cedar and cranberries. 

Treaty Rights Dispute

By: Rita Walaszek | Research & Resources | October 2, 2018

Transcript from a WCCO broadcast on March 20, 1973


The Minnesota Historical Society is home to many resources. The Gale Family Library is the best place for researchers to visit to find information on a multitude of topics. This includes a few folders of information about the court rulings and state appeals regarding the treaty rights of the Leech Lake and White Earth Bands of Ojibwe during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Members of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe were practicing their treaty rights when they were challenged by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. This legal dispute rose to the national level, with the United States Government siding with the tribes. This manuscript collection includes legal documents and many news reports on the dispute, with quotes from individuals on both sides.

Another example of treaty rights disputes can be found in the finding aid of the Save Mille Lacs Association.

Wild Rice Recipes

By: Rita Walaszek | Research & Resources | September 25, 2018

The Minnesota Historical Society has many resources related to wild rice. From ricing sticks to wild rice itself, it is well represented in all of the different collections. One unique piece is a recipe book for wild rice written by William Madison or Chief May-zhuc-ke-ge-shig. Madison was a member of the White Earth of Ojibwe and in 1940 put together this recipe book about wild rice with a few different recipes. Wild rice has been a staple for Ojibwe people since they arrived in Minnesota.

For more library resources about wild rice, please visit the Gale Family Library. For wild rice photographs and objects in our collections, please visit Collections Online. 

Legislation on Native Made Goods in Minnesota

By: Rita Walaszek | Objects/Works | August 28, 2018

Souvenir drum rattle used as example of an item that was labeled as 'Indian-made' but was not. 

In 1972, Neva and Doug Williams, proprietors of American Indian Products Company, Inc., spoke to the Minnesota state legislature about the identification of Native American made goods. The wanted to revise legislation from 1937 about the labeling of Native products. The Williams’ revisions included that the label say ‘not-Indian made’ when produced by someone outside of a federally recognized tribe. The law states that “Indian-made goods are those made exclusively by persons who are of at least one-quarter Indian blood or who are listed on the rolls of the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs as Indians.”

This drum souvenir was used as an example in front of the legislature of an ‘imitation’ piece that was not made by a Native individual but sold to seem like it was. This Minnesota state law predates the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. While there has been laws that protect falsely Native made products since the 1930s, it wasn’t until these later acts of legislation that properly enforced vendors to adhere to these laws.

Dancing at Shakopee

By: Rita Walaszek | Objects/Works | August 21, 2018

This past weekend was the annual Shakopee Mdewakanton Community Wacipi (Pow Wow) in Prior Lake, Minnesota. The Dakota community has been hosting these events for many years. In June of 1971, Monroe Killy, a collector and photographer of Native American people and objects, visited the Shakopee Mdewakanton Community for one of their powwows. Killy photographed the event and was able to capture the festivities movement and color.

To see more of Killy’s photos of the event, visit Collections Online. To learn more about Monroe Killy visits to other Minnesota indigenous communities, visit the Collection Finding Aid.

Frog Woman's Signature

By: Rita Walaszek | Objects/Works | August 14, 2018

Paqua Naha's or Frog Woman's signature

Many Native artists didn’t sign their work. In the Southwest United States, traders encouraged artists to sign their work to help sales. Paqua Naha or Frog Woman, a Hopi potter and painter from Arizona had a very unique signature. Paqua, which means frog in the Hopi language, would draw a frog on the bottom of her pottery. Her daughter, Joy Navasie and also known as Frog Woman, would continue the tradition but change how the frog’s feet were depicted in order to differentiate the maker.

The Minnesota Historical Society has four of Paqua Naha’s pottery in the collection. To see Paqua and other Hopi material culture please visit our Collections Online.

Vase made by Paqua Naha or Frog Woman

Ojibwe fiber mats

By: Rita Walaszek | Objects/Works | August 8, 2018

Ojibwe bulrush mat, 1898

The Minnesota Historical Society has several Ojibwe made fiber mats in their collection. This particular mat is made from bulrush and basswood with green and purple dyed rushes weaved to form a geometric design. Other fibers, like cedar or sage, were commonly used to produce these kinds mats as well.

Pictured below is an Ojibwe woman weaving a bulrush mat, circa 1910. There were several different weaving techniques employed by the Ojibwe and these were sometimes dependent on the fiber used. These mats had multi-functional uses such as floor and door coverings, sleeping mats, and drying mats for wild rice.

Olivia Stout, History Museum Fellow Intern

Photograph by anthropologist Frances Theresa Densmore, to see more photos and items collected by her please visit our collections site.