Feathers and Featherwork (American Indians Ready Reference)
Article abstract: Indian tribes used feathers for decorative and symbolic purposes
Feathers obtained from native birds were an important natural material used by North American Indians for both decorative and symbolic purposes. Although not believed to possess inherent power, feathers could be used to represent spiritual powers and actual achievements of the wearers.
Among the items of spiritual significance that were decorated with feathers were the calumet, or peace pipe, the prayer stick, and the wand. The calumet shaft was often heavily decorated with feathers and even the skins and heads of birds. The feathers on the shaft might be painted red when war was planned.
By far the most valued and significant feathers used were those of the eagle. Indians preferred the feathers of the less common golden eagle found in the western mountains, and birds were sometimes raised from eaglets and then plucked at maturity. Another way to acquire eagle feathers required a hunter to conceal himself in a covered pit near a baited noose and overpower the snared eagle attracted to the food. This was a courageous act, as the eagle was taken alive. Feathers would also be obtained through trade. Eagle feathers were especially important in constructing war bonnets and as “exploit feathers.” A white feather with a black tip was preferred. Among the Dakota Sioux, each of these exploit feathers had a particular meaning depending on...
(The entire section is 601 words.)
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