A Naskapi hunting coat with a French flair

As someone who gets wander the halls of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts on a regular basis, I’ve got to say, the Native American Art galleries just keep looking better and better.

Associate Curator Joe Horse Capture says, thanks to a generous donation from MIA trustee and former Target CEO Bob Uhlrich, the MIA has been able to add several outstanding pieces to its collection.

As we look overall at regional museums that are our peers, the quality of our collection is rising and we’re working our way to the top. There are certain areas of our collection that I look forward to expanding, but certainly in the past few years key acquisitions have dramatically increased the quality of our collection.

One of those recent acquisitions is a Naskapi hunting coat which Horse Capture believes dates back to the mid-18th Century (he’s waiting on the results of pigment tests to confirm this).

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Naskapi – or Innu – hunting coat

Image courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

The Naskapi, also known as the Innu, are traditionally located in Canada’s Quebec and Newfoundland/Labrador provinces. Horse Capture says this type of coat was worn by a man hunting caribou, which was considered a holy occupation. Traditional beliefs held that the Lord of the Caribou sent animals from the sacred mountain for hunters to harvest.

The hunter would have a sacred vision in which he would dream specific designs, which he would then share with his wife. She would interpret these designs and embellish them on a coat. This beautifully decorated coat would be worn while he was hunting. This would please the soul of the caribou, so when the caribou was harvested, his soul would go back to the mountain, so the Lord of the Caribou would release more for the people.

In other words, a failure to respect the caribou would mean fewer caribou for the Naskapi people in the future.(Editor’s note: see comments)

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Naskapi women would incorporate designs their husband saw in dreams into the designs of hunting coats.

Image courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Once the hunting season was over, the coat’s sacred power would fade and the coats were often traded or sold to the French, in exchange for French garments such as the “Justaucorps.” Horse Capture says you can see the influence of French style on this particular hunting coat.

The French had already been in the area for years. As this type of coat (justaucorps) was traded with the Naskapi, the women began using it as inspiration for their own garments.

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As Native Americans and French settlers traded, Naskapi women began incorporating French fashion elements into their own work.

Image courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Horse Capture says of the 60 or so similar hunting coats in collections around the world, this is the finest example to appear on the market in the past ten years.

  • MuseumNative

    “In other words, a failure to respect the caribou would mean fewer caribou for the Naskapi people in the future.”

    Are these your own interpretations or is this a Naskapi perspective? Why would you suppose the negative is true when the intent is simply a thankgiving and paying respect for what was given?

  • Marianne Combs

    MuseumNative – Good point. That was my interpretation of the story, and after conferring with Joe Horse Capture, we agreed that I should strike it. Apologies!

  • http://naskapinews.com Naskapi

    Another small correction; the Naskapi and the Innu are two different people.

    The Innu are also called Montagnais, and traditionally had contact with the French along the St. Lawrence.

    The Naskapi are also called Iyuu (both Innu and Iyuu mean “person”, in their respective languages), and mainly inhabited the interior of Quebec, and traded with the Hudson Bay Company in the north.