Most Valuable Native American Jewelry and Items of All Time

Most Valuable Native American Jewelry and Items of All Time

by Mary Grace Tacderas

Did you know that authentic Native American jewelry is quite valuable? Please go and check inside your jewelry box and see if you own any vintage American Indian Jewelry, and you may be surprised at how much its value is today. These pieces are not limited to jewelry; other accessories like buckles, bow guards, bolo ties are valued at a higher price. We know that vintage and antique jewelry are sometimes costly, but what is particular about Native American jewelry is getting a lot of attention these days in auctions, particularly jewelry made by known artists like Charles Loloma and Hesse Monongya. 

Native American Jewelry

When we say Native American jewelry, we picture personalized accessories fabricated by the United States' aboriginals. These are earrings, necklaces, rings, arm guards (ketohs), wampum, pins, and labrum studs (labrets). These pieces of jewelry represent their diverse culture and traditions, even after the influence of other countries. Materials used were of organic source and indigenous to their location. These are metals, plant fibers, gemstones, driftwoods, animal hide, shells, beads, bones, and teeth.

Native Americans have been making jewelry since the 8800BC, proven by the bone earring found in Fairbanks, Alaska. A 6000BC Shell bead was found in Nevada estimated to exist since 6000BCE. Shell beads were a significant part of Native American arts as well as trade. Other materials such as bones, tusks, teeth, and claws were likewise made into beads.

Native Americans

American Indians are commonly referred to as Native Americans. They are subdivided into 10 groups:

Arctic 

The Arctic region is a harsh place to live in, extremely cold, treeless, where polar bears and seals live with the Aleut and Inuit population.

The indigenous people of Alaska, Greenland, and Canada, were a small group of people, separate from one another. The Inuit's lives on the Northern portion while the Aleut settled on the southern part. The Inuit's live like nomads migrating across the icy desert. The Aleut's were more established as they lived along the shore. They live by hunting walrus, seals, whales, fish for some cod, salmon, and crabs.

Both speak Eskimo-Aleut language, live in dome-shaped houses, dog sleds, fishing boats, and animal skins as clothes.

Inuit Jewelry

Inuit jewelry was made from silver, copper, beads, amber, ivory, shells, turquoise, etc. Arctic animals like polar bears and whales are carved on antler and ivory used as pendants tired with an organic rope.

Dentalium

 

Tusk shells are seashells widely used by the Inuit's in southwest California. Alaskan dentalium is collected from the Northwestern Pacific region coastline of North America. Wearing a tusk shell jewelry is a symbol of wealth for plain Indians, adorned on women's capes, hair ornaments, and earrings. In Californian tribes, dentaliums are not an ordinary shell but a vital part of their culture and considered sacred wealth. Measured by the shell's length, a 2.25-inch tusk shell is of high quality. When strung together, a twelve-piece set is equal to the value of a redwood dugout.

Eskimo Wood Mask

Sold at a whopping 181,000USD, the mask is made from carved wood, showing a stylized animal appearance. Eskimo masks were worn at festivities and traditional dances. Regalia is used in performing rituals associated with hunting, honoring the spirits. The shaman will relay his vision to the carver, which in turn makes the vision a reality.

Polychrome Wood Mask – Bella Coola

With an estimated value of 150,000 to 120 000 USD, the mask was sold at 433,000USD. Designed with a hawk motif, the wooden mask is a combination of wood and hide dyed with red, white, black pigments.

Aleut Jewelry

The Aleut carving is unique per region. They likewise use walrus ivory and driftwood to make jewelry and artworks carving indigent animals and human forms. They were also famous basket weavers using false embroidery overlaying grass leaves, resulting in a glossy, plastic appearance. Aleut women use their sharp long thumbnail in weaving mats and baskets. Mask for ceremonies was carved from wood and colored using natural dyes. The Aleut pierce their nose, ears, and mouth to prevent evil spirits (khoughkh) from entering their body.

Sub-arctic

The location of the sub-arctic is muddy, piney woodland, and wet from Alaska to Canada. Tribes wore snowshoes, toboggans and travel using lightweight canoes. They live in small and transportable tents moving from one location to another due to the harsh environment.

Gwich'in / Kuchin 

The Gwich'in tribe were known for intricate beadwork and quilled porcupine embroidery. The term, when translated, means small people. Each village has its own dialects and expressions; however, the Gwich'in language is divided into eastern and western dialects. Forest-dwelling caribou plays a significant part in Gwich'in's creation; therefore, they rarely hunt them for food. Woodland caribous are also believed to be smarter and elusive, thus harder to catch.

Caribou is an ethnic figure for the Gwich'in community. They consider themselves as caribou people. Almost all of their things are from caribou, tent and clothes are of caribou hide, fur skins used as flooring and bedding, soaps were made from caribou fats and tree ash, and of course, they eat caribou meat.

Cree

The largest group from the first nation living in North America. Divided into eight groups established per dialect and region. Aside from being great hunters, Cree women are also known for their beautiful beadwork and functional clothes and accessories. The Cree was one of the nations that accept mixed marriages resulting in mixed bands. This resulted in different Cree groups such as swampy Cree, Woodland Cree, and others.

Cree Beaded Hood – James Bay

Sold at 16,250USD, the wool and silk hood decorated with glass beads and cotton thread is designed with a floral motif.

Cree Doll Cradle

The date of the doll cradle was based in the doll and cradle auction in Christie's in 1989. The doll and cradle were estimated to date back to the 1800s, for the cradle are characterized by the same elements. Woven quilt fabric panels cover the head protector and the back. A pair of thunderbird triangular cut circles are marked on top of the cradle with a plaited quill sewn over the cloth accentuated with pony beads and frills.

 

The fifth-largest Native American population living in Canada and the Midwestern portion of the United States of America. Known for their distinct birch bark canoes and scroll, and copper. Their name represents various meaning related to their identity. Cook or roast, referring to the technique used to make moccasin waterproof. The Ojibwa cures moccasin seams in the fire, which is also a torturing method used against their rivals. Keeper of records, the Ojibwa population used pictographs and pictorial writing called the Ojibwa writing system.

Ojibwa Hieroglyphs

 

PD-US

Ojibwa's writing system is related to the first nation group Mikmaq seen on the birch bark scroll from the grand medicine society (Midewiwin). The Ojibwas signed their treaty with the Americans using their totem (the writing believed to originate the totems and totem poles). These scrolls contain various information from rituals, songs, and medicinal recipes.

Belief

There are seven powerful shells according to Ojibwa history. These are the bullhead, Crane, duck, bear, moose, thunderbird, and the powerful spirit. These miigis were used in divination, 

The Ojibwas became friends with French traders, thereby gaining access to guns. Using these newly acquired tools, they were able to defeat their enemies, the Lakota, and the Fox tribe. The Ojibwa was a part of the alliance called the council l of three fires together with Anishinaabe and Potawatomi groups. Together they fought against the Iroquois at the same time the French invasion. Being a friend to the French, they fought alongside them against the British. The French retreated to their land, and the Ojibwa population was left with the Brits. Likewise, they fought together against the Americans. Like all other indigenous groups, the Ojibwa tribe were offered a treaty giving them bits of land to live in.

 

Northeast

 

By Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0

From North Carolina to the Mississippi River, The Northeastern folk was divided into two groups, the Iroquoian, who lived along the inland rivers and lakes. Algonquian speakers survived by farming corn, vegetable, and beans and fishing as they settled along the ocean.

Iroquois

 

A large alliance composed of six nations. The Tuscarora, Onondaga, Mohawks, Oneida, Cayuga, and Seneca group.  There are various stories on how these nations formed an alliance. One says it is because of corn crops, which are a staple food for the natives. Some say it is because of eth solar eclipse. One tale talks about a pair of men and a woman. The great peacemaker and mother of all nations. This brought about the great law of peace written on wampum belts. This made the Algonquian and the Iroquoian together, ending the feuds. The confederation was very liberal, according to the British. They were not allowed to raid within their territory and only raided their neighboring tribe extending their land.

It was the Revolutionary war that finally broke the alliance. The Tuscarora and the Oneida clan decided to side with the Americans while the reaming nations remained loyal to the British. Alas, the British lost, and a treaty was signed giving most of their land to the United States

Wampum

 
By Oaktree b - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

A type of white shell bead from a large sea snail called channeled whelk, while a purple and whitey beads are taken from round hard clam called quahog native to North Atlantic Ocean. Tubular in shape, formed by drilling small whelk shells and polished in grinding stones until it exhibits a smooth surface. The term wampum originated from a Massachusetts term wampumpeag translating to the white string of shell beads used as ceremonial gifts and recording critical and historical events. It was also a form of currency used on trades before the arrival of the colonials.

For the Iroquois, a string of wampum serves as a certificate of authority for official use worn by the clan mother and the tribe chief, passed on to their successor.

Narragansett tribes prefer teardrop-shaped beads while the Munsee group favors runtees (drilled circular shell)

Carved stone pendant dated back from one to four-hundred CE showing carved bird themes. Other popular charms are engraved shells and bear teeth inlaid with pearls. Bone, wood, or stone pendant with carved human faces serves as protective amulets.

Hair combs were made from moose antlers with engraved animals with human appearances such as monkeys and bears. 

Southeast

 

The southeastern lives in a humid environment with fertile lands where they farmed beans, squash, maize, and sunflower. They spoke the Muskogean language and were civilized groups of people.

Cherokee

People living in the mountains, people living in the cave, principal people, these all refer to the term Cherokee. Believed to have come from an Iroquoian lineage, they lived on the western portion of North Carolina. The Cherokee were known in the deerskin trade. The main reason that strengthens their relationship with the British. After the American war, they build what is now called the Cherokee Nation. An independent tribal administration recognized by the government.

Cherokee Basket

Sold for 3,438USD, the basket was identified as a 19th-century basket from North Carolina. Made from woven white oak painted with green and red dyes.

Dan Townsend

A recognized artist with a Cherokee and Creel birthright. Famous for his shell, bone, jade, and glass carving, displaying traditional Native American designs. His works are more than a hundred dollars' worth showing beautifully carved gorget pendants.

Knokovtee Scott 

Considered a national treasure with a Cherokee ethnicity, Knokovtee Scott died in 2019.HE was famous for his skull in carving purple mussel shells.

Mussel shell Earring and Pendant Necklace by Knokovtee Scott

Available in Cisco gallery, this earring and pendant necklace set is worth 750USD. A set made from pink mussel shells, highlighting a concave gorget pendant intricately carved with a traditional four-sided square scroll representing the four wind of Earth. The charm is further enhanced with maroon acrylic paint. A cross symbol with sunrays is enclosed within the scroll representing the suns and ancestors. The lovely necklace is made up of two freshwater pearls and  42 pieces of round and cylindrical beads assembled alternately. Paired with a pair of polished disk shells attached to a fishhook earring.

Chickasaw and Choctaw

Considered one of the civilized tribes together with the Cherokee, Choctaw, creek, and Seminole. The warriors of the lower Mississippi. Historians believe that the Choctaw and Chickasaw came from one lineage that separated in the 17th century. They believe that they came from the mounds of the ground. They worked for the British raiding lands and trading slaves with the British in exchange for guns. After the Revolutionary War, they fought with the Americans against other territories. Even though both tribes fought with the Americans, they signed after the treaty ceding all claims to their land.

Plains

 

The plains community lived on grasslands located between the Mississippi river and mountains. They were hunters and farmers that lived like nomads after the Spaniards came into their lands. They resided in teepees and portable tents made from bison hide and were known for their feathered headdresses.

Plains Jewelry

Indigenous people living on the Great Plains have been making beads since 8800BCE. A lump of engraved brown coal was found in Colorado. Shell beads from abalone, mussel, Olivella, and marginella shells were traded on the coast of California since 100CE.

Hair Pipes

 
By Wolfgang Sauber - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Hair pipes are elongated beads well-loved by the American Indians of the Northwest and the Great Plains. These are part of the Native American ceremonial dress during social meetings called powwow arranged by indigenous groups in honor of their culture. Used in various accessories such as breastplates, chokers, earrings, and necklaces.

Cheyenne

 

The Cheyenne population spoke the Alonquinian language and Cheyenne language called Tsisinstsistots. Divided into two tribes, the Suhtai and the Tsitsistas, both tribes traveled together until they finally unite as one group in 1831 while maintaining separate camps. As eth plains are inhabited by a number of tribes, the Cheyenne group was pushed by the Lakota tribe from Northern Minnesota to the south and west, where they made an alliance with the Arapaho group. They were able to expand their territories from southern Montana to Kansas.  Together, the Cheyenne and Arapaho alliance warred against the Comanche, Kiowa, and the Apache alliance for two years. In 1840, the groups have made a new treaty enabling the Cheyenne to enter Texas to New Mexico. The Cheyenne were also successful in creating a pact with the Northern Lakota Sioux, giving entry to their former land, the black hills.

The Cheyenne were skilled warriors and horsemen. Warrior was seen as protectors, leaders, and providers. Their rank goes up with the number of brave acts they commit until he reaches the position of the war chief. The warriors are also divided into six groups: Swift fox, elk horn, crooked lance, shield, browsing men, contrary warrior, and dog group. The latter two societies are the most notable. The contrary warriors were famous for riding backward into battle, while the crazy dog society is known for their aggressive behavior and combat skills.

Dog Soldiers

 
By Dori - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 us

The Dog Soldiers were initially part of the Cheyenne group before they became a separate division. The separation started when the war chief discovered that the Kiowa and Comanche had killed Cheyenne's bowstring men. He went to various Arapaho and Cheyenne camps to revenge the men's death. While drinking with his cousins, he was involved in a fight resulting in him being banned from joining a society. He was expelled as the chief of the dog warriors, and he and his family had to camp separately with the Cheyenne's. Upon revenge with the Kiowa, he manages to lead the dog society in a victorious battle.

His loyal warriors and relatives remained separate from the Cheyenne until the Masikota group joined them after being heavily affected by the plague. With this, he was able to join the Cheyenne nation sitting with the Masikota band. Other warriors joined them, later forming a group of warriors leading the fight against the whites. Their crew had gained respect from other bands as well.

The dog society was also responsible for breaking the matrilineal kinship, which instead of joining their wife's clan, he brought his wife back to his camp. They were regarded as the third group primarily due to increasing division within the groups.

Quillwork

 
By Squirrelwhisperer - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Quillwork was a significant decorative art of the indigenous groups living in subarctic, northeastern, and northern plains. Women quilled various garments such as moccasins, teepees, cradleboards, and robes made from animal hides.

Plain quillworks display geometrical patterns of squares also seen on paintings. Circular patterns were utilized on men's shirts together with parallel designs located on the sleeves.

Porcupine quills are unique to the Northern region of America. These quillworks were initially done on tanned hides and later on to birch bark boxes sold to European Americans.

Hair drop

 

Worn by men either quilled or beaded attached to a 2-feet long strip of leather and or buffalo tail. Initially designed with porcupine quillwork, replaced by glass beads in the 19th century. Feathers and silver adornments were used as well as German silver disks popular between 1835 to 1870. These discs consist of a mixture of copper, nickel, and zinc, simulating the appearance of silver. For the Piegan Blackfeet of the North American plains, hair plates represent wealth and are adorned with horsehair protecting the horse's owner.

Shoshone

 

The name translates to grass house people, while some call them the snake people. Originating from the great basin, the Shoshone tribe crossed the rocky mountain to settle on the Great Plains. They were pushed back by the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Blackfoot tribes until they joined the powerful Comanche. As the Americans continue to migrate near their territory, increasing tension, Northern Shoshone attacked the immigrants for food resulting in war. They allied with the Bannock tribe fighting together in both the snake and bannock war. In 1876, they changed sides and fought together with the Americans against the Lakota and Cheyenne.

Floral Beaded Armband

Currently Auctioned at Sotheby's, the pair of armband is from the Shoshone tribe of the Northern Plains shows a finely beaded hide accentuated with red petals, a blue stem and leaves, and a yellow core, set on a white beaded base. The pair of accessory has an estimated price of 800 to 1,200 USD.

Lakota Tribe

Also known as Teton Sioux, The Lakota tribe survived through hunting and gathering wild rice and growing corns. They were reasonably peaceful people that had the French called them friendly or allied. They lived in Minnesota to Dakota. Warring with neighboring tribes for land. They learned the horse culture through the Cheyenne, who they later pushed to the south and western portion of the plains. Because of the plague that decreased the number of powerful tribes living in Missouri, the Lakota tribe were able to cross the river, which helped them defeat and expel the Cheyenne living in black hills.

They were also said to be the first Native American who helped the Americans during the Arikara war. The Black Hills were sacred to the Lakota population, and they fought hard against mining. In 1868, a treaty was signed, freeing black hills from all white settlements. However, this was later nulled when gold was found, and they were attacked to gain access to the land. The Native Americans joined hands with the Cheyenne tribe, where war lasting until 1877. That same year, the Lakota signed a treaty giving black hills to the United States. 

Lakota War Shirt with Porcupine Quillwork

Only men who have shown great valor and sacrifice only award a war shirt. The shirt displays traditional porcupine quillwork patterns (talisman for protection), painted sections signifying the Earth and sky, and hair locks. The hair fringe represents the person's dedication towards his people.

Comanche

 

Dubbed as the most powerful nation among the Native American tribes. The group initially lived a nomadic lifestyle like the other Native Americans until their encounter with the Spaniards and the magnificent creature that made them the strongest nation, the horse. They learned and mastered breaking, training, riding, and trading them before their former rival, the Cheyenne. Unlike other nations, the Comanche did not have a single leader; they were made of different bands led by elders.

Far from their initial peaceful initial image, The Comanche lived only for war and expanding territories. They ride, hunt, eat, and ride again, honing their skills in battle. They were adaptive people able to quickly learn for their enemies, developing their war tactics. It was said that the primary hindrance why Spain and France were not able to take over North America was because of the powerful Comanche empire. They were able to quickly grow their land, having alliances or taking in former rivals. Dividing their warriors first in four directions to expand and protect their land. They were known as Comanche moon deriving from the image of the riding horses at night. They also practice patrilineal kinship.

Cradle Boards

 
By Birmingham Museum of Art, CC BY 3.0

Newborn Comanche are swaddled and placed in a cradleboard. This is to easily carry the baby on her back as she does her chores. Characterized by a flat board attached to a basket made from rawhide and leather strips, with a lace-up closure front. This is used for ten months when the baby is permitted to crawl. Make children were celebrated more than the females for it denotes an additional warrior in the family.

Comanche Bag

 

Delicate pots, weaving, wood and metal fabrication, and baskets are not relevant articles because of their lifestyle lack of knowledge. Instead, they maximize their primary prey, the buffalo, and created durable bags and pouches using their hide. They use dried buffalo dung as wood for the fire and the lining as a pot for stews and soups. Leathers were made into saddles, moccasins, and other garments.

Beaded Child Fringe Shirt

Sold at 59,375 USD, this Arapaho shirt is characterized by an open poncho made from tanned hide. Sewn with glass beadwork with a pair of diamond-shaped main design enclosing a cross mark at its center, flanked with a couple of four toothed prongs with a line of colorful butterfly motif at the center of the shirt and sleeves.

Southwest

The southwestern group inhabited Arizona to New Mexico. They lived an inactive life growing corn, beans, and squash and settled in towns constructed from stones and adobe with kivas (ceremonial house) built at the center of the village.  However, two groups, the Apache and Navajo tribe, lived a nomadic lifestyle and invaded their neighboring tribes for food. These two live in hogans (houses facing the east) made from mud and wood. 

Shell Gorgets

 
By Herb Roe, CC BY-SA 3.0

Carved shell pendants using the whorl of whelk shell, conch, or mussels. The pendant is mostly concave and circular in shape, with the interior polished and engraved. Some pieces are rectangular with rounded edges or mask-shape. The Guale tribe are known for their rattlesnake gogets.

Mask Gorgets

 
By Herb Roe, CC BY-SA 3.0

Mask gorgets are a rare find. An artifact estimated to date from 1500 to 1700 was found in Arkansas's Nodena site was characterized by drilled eyes and mouth with zigzag engravings on the cheeks.

The design engrave don gorgets have different interpretations that even historians have their own version. Rattlesnake gorgets found in young deceased individual tombs are associated with young age, fork-eye motif or eth zigzag lines are linked with the duck hawk or peregrine falcon denoting excellent hunting skills. In contrast, the medicine man is associated with the strength of life.

Cox Gorgets

 
By Herb Roe, CC BY-SA 3.0

Cox gorgets are engraved with woodpecker heads facing their left, set over a square scroll, with a sun center design. Woodpeckers were believed to extract illnesses from humans. Deduced as the four winds of Earth or the four stages of life. The rayed sun represents the holy fire and the ancestors. The design is thought to come from the Yuchi group depicting Yuchi's myth of the wind.
Yuchi people are called Tsoyaha or the children of the sun. They farmed maize, beans, and squash as that of other Indian tribes and hunted deer and elks. The town consists of a square ground with a sacred fire in the middle, huts, and a ball field. Family crest were panther, deer, wind, bear, and alligator, likewise following a matrilineal kinship.

Hopi

 
By mareklug - Flickr: Phillip Sekaquaptewa bolo tie, circa 1988, contemporary Hopi silver overlay with stone and shell, CC BY-SA 4.0

Previously dubbed as Moki by the Spaniards. The origin of the Hopi is unidentified; they believe that their ancestors came from kivas and travel to many places until they reached the pueblos. Some say that the Hopi people have the same origin as the pueblo clans. Hopi men farmed produce like squash, melons, and a variety of vegetables. They also built houses and wove garments and blankets. Women wove baskets,  mold pots, and took care of the children. They also fetched water and ground cornmeal. What is unique about Hopi Jewelry is that the engravings tell a story.

Kachina 

 

Katchina is a spirit held high by the Puebloans. Katchina rites are likewise practiced by other tribes such as the Zuni, Hopi, and Tewa. There are three aspects according to the katchina theory: Katchina dolls, katchina dancers, and supernatural beings. Wuya is a list of spiritual beings important to the Hopi people. Hopi katchina dolls are holy and used as ceremonial regalia, each accompanied by s religious meaning. Hopi katchinas sold are different from ceremonial dolls a carvers remove their spiritual meaning to cater to non-Hopi used for decorative purposes. Katchina dolls are only given to individuals who are respectful and responsible to care for the doll.

Hopi Kachina doll

with a final bid of 12,500USD, this female Katchina doll is made of cottonwood, cloth, brass pins with striped colored horns.  

Umtoinaqa Large Wood Katchina doll

Sold at 40,625 USD, a representation of Umtoinaqa, making thunder. Characterized by a pair of red moccasins, white kilt, green case mask, and a triangular mouth.

Charles Loloma 

A sought after modern Hopi jeweler using non-traditional materials like gold and gemstones. Initially a potter and a painter, his creations were not typical of Native American Jewelry. He used turquoise and corals only as accents, which were two of the most iconic trademark of Native American jewelry.

Vintage Coral Turquoise Wood Cuff by Charles Loloma

Sold at 6,875USD, this full cuff bracelet highlights an assembly of gemstones. Turquoise, ironwood, and tiger's eye set on a silver cuff bracelet.

Coral Lapis Lazuli Turquoise Cuff Silver Bracelet       

Sold with the final bid of 25,00USD at Sotheby's, this magnificent bracelet is made with rows of corals with lapis lazuli and turquoise accents. This was tagged as restricted species and cannot be internationally shipped for it contains materials listed as endangered species. 

Jet Coral Turquoise Hopi Bracelet

Auctioned in Sotheby's New York in 2014 with a final bid of 40 625. Another Charles Loloma Masterpiece is estimated to date from 1921 to 1991. Fabricated with a silver cuff base with asymmetrical cut pieces of turquoise, lapis lazuli, and ironwood set using the mosaic technique.

Lapis Lazuli Turquoise Rings

Made from a gold base displaying a traditional uneven cobblestone pattern comprising lapis lazuli, turquoise, and coral.

Gold Cobble Stone Hopi Buckle

A two-piece single tongue belt buckle made from gold with mosaic and cobbles stone setting of lapis lazuli, red corals, and turquoise. Sold at 37,500USD.

Silver Hopi Bolo

With a final bid of 5,313 USD, this silver bolo by Charles Loloma highlights a variety of materials such as ironwood, ivory, and turquoise, set on a rectangular-cut gold plate, fastened on a braided lanyard with a pair of spearhead-shaped aglets.

Turquoise Ironwood Coral Bolo by Charles Loloma

Sold at 9,375USD, the jewelry is made from a human-shaped silver, inlaid with lapis lazuli, coral, ironwood, and turquoise. Paired with a leather strap with a pair of small silver humanoid aglets.

Jesse Monongya Gold Pendant and Ring Set

Sold at 8,125usd, made by a Hopi artisan using unidentified Gold Karat. Highlighting a bear-shaped pendant with a jet inlay decorated with turquoise, coral, and mother of pearl. Paired with a landscape themed signet ring.

Zuni

 

Shiwi lived near the Zuni River, where they planted maize in small plots. Their number was small that grew in size in 12 century.

Zuni Pottery

Zuni pots were made by women for food and water storage, Symbols of their clan painted as a design and identity, Aside from household use; these were also sold for money. The women first give thanks to Mother Earth before creating the pot from a mixture of clay and water. After molding and scraping, a fine clay layer (slip) is added to the surface for added smoothness. Organic dyes were used to paint the vessel and then baked in kilns.

Zuni Fetishes

 
By Techninjas - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Zuni is known for their small animal carvings called Zuni fetishes suing stones, shells, or bones. Stone carvings were used in ceremonial events where it represents animals and Gods.

Here are some animals used as Zuni fetishes based on the six regions in Zuni beliefs. 

The yellow mountain lion represents the yellow mountain to the north, Blue colored black bears signify the blue mountain to the west, the red badger indicates the red mountain to the south, the white wolf represents the White Mountain to the west. A multicolored eagle denotes the sky, while a black shrew embodies that underground.

Zuni fetishes are sacred. When blessed by the shaman, the carving stays within the village used by the carver himself. Today, these are sold to collectors as Native American art.

Navajo  

One of the most celebrated Native American groups. Early men were hunters and gatherers following the migration of the animals. After they moved together with the Apache tribe in the southwestern portion of America, they shifted to a sedentary lifestyle and farmed lands together with the Pueblo Indians. The Hopi tribe joined them in later years due to drought. The Navajo people learned pottery, weaving, and painting. Dry sand painting and silver jewelry are part of Navajo's traditional art. They fabricated silver jewelry since the 19th century, which they learned from Mexican silversmiths named Atsindi Sani. Atsindi was originally a blacksmith turned to silversmith after learning the art from the Spanish themselves.

Navajo jewelry is known for its silver base and large stone designs. Some of their unique pieces are Concho belts, squash blossom necklaces, and buttons. Due to the lack of quality silver, the Navajo jewelers' melted coins and pieces of silver tableware in creating silver jewelry. They used sand casting and soldering techniques in uniting two silver pieces. Three stones often used by the Navajo silversmiths are turquoise, corals, and opals, which are deemed sacred based on the belief that it is a gift from Mother Earth. Navajo Jewelry signifies the wealth of the wearer. The bigger and bulkier, the richer the wearer.

Squash Blossom necklaces

 
silverborders.com, CC BY-SA 3.0

Squash Blossom necklaces are made of stone pomegranate flowers (a typical decoration for the Spaniards) on a necklace with a horseshoe pendant deemed by the Spaniards as a good luck charm. In other beliefs, the flower bud is based on squash flowers, which is typical produce farmed by the Native Americans. The name was said to derive from a type of bead used. The Naja or the horseshoe pendant serves as a protective talisman, which the Moors use to repel the evil eye. The pendant was initially designed with pure silver; in later years, turquoise and corals were added for aesthetics. For the Navajos, The crescent pendant represents the womb of a woman. When a single gem is suspended within the curve of the pendant, this denotes pregnancy. The necklace was a popular accessory in the 1970s as part of bohemian fashion.

Ketohs

 
By User:Richard Keatinge, CC BY-SA 3.0

Ketohs are arm guards or bow guards developed by the Navajo and the Hopi tribe. Commonly adorned with turquoise, bones, and other indigenous materials. Most ketohs are functional or used in ceremonies, exhibit a central design, and are tailored from a leather fabric. Likewise, following a matrilineal ancestry, with small and independent groups governs by an elected leader. 

Navajo Silver Belt

Three-piece Navajo belt with old leather straps. One belt highlights eight conchas, the second features seven conchas, and the last displays seven conchas with a turquoise accent. The set was sold with a final bid of 21,000USD.

Apache

 

Dubbed as the distant cousin of the Navajo tribe, the Apache people used to practice a nomadic lifestyle until they decided to settle in the southwest.  A Spaniard described them as dog nomads and plain dogs for their dogs used to carry their valuable. He said that the Apaches followed a cattle herd, eat raw meats, and drink the animal's blood. After the Spaniards halted trade between the Apache's pueblos and the Apache's bought horses and raided nearby settlements.

The Apache practices a sorority and levirate marriage, where the sibling of the deceased wife or husband is obliged to marry the widow of his or her sibling. The man avoids most of his wife's relatives and is not allowed to see his wife's female relatives.

Apache clothes are decorated with seed beads influenced by the plains. They use diagonal striped patterns using seed beads.

Great Basin

From the sierras of Nevada to the plateau of Columbia and Colorado, barren land of salt flats and salty ponds. They likewise live like nomads as they feed on seeds and nuts and hunted small animals like snakes. They dwell on wikiups made from poles, leaves, and shrubs. After colonization, They were given horses in which they used for hunting and raiding neighboring tribes. They also lost their land to the white skins after discovering that the Earth contains silver and gold.

Bannock  

The Bannock people were initially part of the Piute tribe. They branched out after acquiring horses and established a horse culture. Fished salmons for food and used its skin as carrying bags. They also made pots and utensils from the horns of sheep. After the introduction of glass beads, they shifted dyed geometric designs to beadwork.

Women wore dresses from deerskin while men wore breechcloth, buckskin shirts, and leggings decorated with beadworks and floral designs. They were known for skills in basket weaving and delicate beading.

California

A hospitable land that housed more than a hundred tribes estimated to include more than 300,000 people that speak different language. They were peaceful groups of people that lived as hunters and gatherers trading with other tribes. They lost their land as they were conquered by the Spanish conquistadors, and forced labor was mandated.

The Northwest Coast

From the Pacific coast to the northern region of northern California. A place rich in natural resources and exhibits a favorable environment. They fish for salmons, gather shellfish, and hunted seals, whales, and otters. They established permanent villages on the northwestern region of the Pacific, living in a hierarchy determined by how close a person to the village leader, then receiving gifts like blankets, animal hides, shells, and canoes.

Walrus tusk was primarily used for carving accessories until the discovery of the argillite mine. The stone was easier to engraved and thus replace bones and ivory. Russian fur traders later introduced colored Venetian glass became popular especially amber, red, and blue colors. Copper was initially used before the European people introduced silver and gold. Pieces of jewelry were made using the hammering technique engraved with heraldic symbols. Repousse techniques were later incorporated by the jewelers.

Tusk shells beads jewelry were typical among Nuu-cha-nuith group, while large abalone shells were worn by women of high status. 

Haida

 

Known for their skills in carvings and trade. Totem poles, decorated jewelry, and Chilkat weaving were truly unique to the Haida people.  

Totem poles

 

Totem poles were a symbol showing their heritage. These are founded in front of the house or on the post itself. A Haida carving made from large tree trunks of red cedar. The word translates to kinship group in the Algonquian language and is erected in honor of the ancestors, clan lineage, and cultural beliefs. The pole carving may include animals, plants, humans, and thunderbird. The meaning varies with the combination and the sequence. Some poles celebrate

Haida totem pole

Sold at 157,000USD, here is a large model totem pole from the Haida population. Characterized by a beautifully carved wood colored with red and black pigments accentuating a line of the totem with an eagle top.

Transformational mask 

Worn on ceremonies by the dancer to represent the connection with the spirits. Typically designed with an animal feature representing the soul of the ancestors of the wearer. The mask also represents reincarnation in the afterlife. With this said, each mask is personalized and designed for a person and is a sacred object.

Haida Wood Mask

A special mask sold at 634,600USD, made by Simeon Stilthda, a famous Haida craftsman during the mid 19th century. The mask shows a beautiful female carved wooden mask with smiling eyes and mouth. Red floral paints decorate her youthful face with a Librium piercing.

Tlingit

 

The aboriginals people of the Northwest coast. The term Tlingit translates to people of the tides. Divided into two kinships, the raven and the eagle, subdivided into several in-groups. They followed a matrilineal type of kinship where the husband moves into the woman's family. The raven is believed to have brought man into Earth; a trickster by nature though favored by the creator and has given him the sun and the moon while the eagle or wolves are the hunters. Properties belong to the clan rather than individually. 

Chilkat weaving

 

 An old-fashioned weaving is done by the Native American living in the Northwestern portion of Alaska. Originating from the Chilkat tribe, the weaving highlights a wool fringe to sway with the dancers' movement. Intricate and unique, which can form a curvilinear pattern within the weave.

It may take a year for a blanket to finish due to its intricacy and difficulty. The base material varies from the bark of yellow cedar, goat's wool, or dog fur.

Jennie Thlunaut

 

Jennie was born in the Tlingit community; her mother was of the eagle moiety and her father from the frog moiety. She showed interest in weaving and basket making at a young age as her mother taught her the art of Chilkat weaving. She had an arranged marriage, was widowed, and remarried in 1922. Her second husband passed in 1952, and she was left to fend for her children. She sold some of her works to provide for her family. She was recognized by the Smithsonian Institutions in 1986, and her works were featured in various exhibitions.

Chilkat blanket by Jennie Thlunaut

Auctions at Sotheby's in 2013, the beautiful blanket was sold at 25,000USD. Made from a mountain goat's wool and fibers from cedar bark with black, yellow, and turquoise colors. The blanket shows totemic patterns with a long wool fringe along the bottom edge. 

Basket pendants

Basket weaving is an important art form for Native Americans. Basket pendants are literally small woven baskets used as pendants.

Polychrome Tlingit Wooden Mask

Realized at 277,000USD. The mask was made from a block of carved wood with an open mouth and eyes. In Tlingit's belief, masks were sources of supernatural powers. Mostly made with animal or spirits motif, the mask will give him the ability to see into the future, heal, and repel sorcery. Masks with no relation to nature are considered as shamanic art.

Labret

 

Labret at the space between the lip and the chin called labrum. Labrum piercing denotes one social status or gender for the Northwestern Indians. Labrets were later replaced by cranial deformation.

Gems Specific to Native American Jewelry

Corals

Corals are one of the oldest materials used in jewelry. They can survive from shallow to deep waters and house more than 25 percent of various fish species. The most sought after variety is the black, red corals, and stony corals. At present, factors such as water pollution, destructive fishing, and live coral harvesting are threats coral are facing that some species are listed and protected by the endangered species act.

Corals represent wealth and success for the Native Americans. The magnificent red color of coral signifies various meanings. Positive interpretations such power, happiness, beauty, strength, birth or dark version of war, blood, or violence. It is also a color used to represent a supernatural being for eth Zuni, the thunderbird. Corals and turquoise are seen as both from the water. One from the ocean and the second one form the sea. This signifies the union of the Earth and water.

Turquoise

 
By Silverborders - Own work, CC BY 3.0

The oldest gemstone used by the Native Americans in making jewelry. Slightly more challenging than glass, with colors varying from blue to green. The blue color signifies copper content, while the green shade represents iron impurities. The sleeping beauty excavation is one of the places that produce high-quality turquoise. The mine closed its turquoise production to concentrate on copper mining. To the rescue are the Kingsman mine and other smaller mines around the area. The highest quality of turquoise exhibits Robin's egg blue color, while the rarest is called lander blue spider web turquoise from Nevada. Turquoise has been deemed sacred and essential by the Aztecs, Egyptians, Asians, and of course, the Native Americans. Native Americans considers the Earth is alive. Turquoise embodies life on Earth and the sky. Some tribes believe that these blue stones fell from the sky and thus a gift from the heavens.

The stone is believed to bring prosperity and protection from evil. Warriors bring the stones to keep them from harm. Turquoises were also used in rituals as an offering to the Gods. Some believe that the stone contains healing powers and strength from the Gods.

Jet

 
By Geni - Photo by user:geni, CC BY-SA 4.0

A type of gemstone from wood subjected to extreme pressure. Mined in the San Juan basin in New Mexico and presently known as the Acoma jet.  

Silver Jewelry Technique

Hammering

Traditional Native American Jewelry was hammered. From the term itself, silver is hammered to flatten the surface and to enclose a stone.

Repousse

After hammering, comes the repousse technique. A system where portions of the jewelry are elevated or embossed. Originating from a French term meaning to push forward.  

Sand Casting Process

In the latter years, the sand casting was used to mold the silver base. A piece of metal jewelry is formed with the use of sand as a mold.

Old Pawn

Old paws are the most valued among Native American jewelry. It was in the 1800s when American Indians started fabricating and selling pieces of jewelry for cash. However, the components of jewelry that were personally crafted were of high value due to the intricacy and the quality. These are pawned at trading posts, and when not redeemed, they are considered dead pawn and were sold to tourists. The best way to know if you have authentic Native American jewelry is to have it assessed by an expert. If you have a good eye, you may want to consider the wear, quality, and design. The aboriginals initially used the hammering technique before they learned repousse and sand casting. The silver used were also of high quality. You may want to bring a magnet with you just to check if it has been plated with silver for, silver-plating usually contains nickel that is responsive to magnets. Also, not of the turquoise used. Some pieces are made from simulated glass replicating turquoise. These were done in the later years as turquoise became harder to mine.

Our takeaway from this article is that the Native Americans are deeply rooted in their culture and heritage. Everything they produce, from the shirt, pattern, dolls, and jewelry, is in honor of their culture, belief, and heritage. These are not just objects, but a part of their being.

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