The threads of First Nations history are woven into blankets. Indigenous people of North America have long used blankets in ceremonies and celebrations, such as weddings, to mark important events.
Two As One
When two people are blanketed together it means they are now united as one heart, one mind. In this context, a blanket is a symbol of unity. Other occasions where blankets may be used include namings, coming of age, puberty rights, and funerals. The widespread use of blankets in both daily life and ceremony shows how important they are to many First Nations.
Comfort and Style
In the Northwest and Plateau areas, shawls and blankets have been worn in a variety of ways both for style and comfort. Originally made from fur or animal hides including deer, elk, bear, caribou, seal, moose, and buffalo, blankets were also made from grasses or cedar bark. Traders later introduced blankets that were lighter and less bulky than traditionally-made blankets.
Animal Fur Blankets
Blankets made from animal furs could take days to prepare. Each phase of the process is quite labour-intensive, as animals have to be hunted, and pelts have to be tanned and prepared. Fur or hair may be removed depending on the type of blanket or shawl that is being made.
Some of the blankets introduced by Europeans were transformed by Indigenous people into dresses, skirts, leggings, and jackets. Although blankets brought by settlers were accepted, First Nations always maintained their use of, and connection to, blankets and shawls.
Blankets have been used by First Nations for millennia. The artwork portrayed on blankets may include symbols of the natural world such as animals, and/or specific types of geometric patterns.
Significance of Blankets
Blankets have deep meaning and are linked to culture, life, and death.
Beyond ceremonial and cultural usage, blankets also have a more essential role in clothing, bedding, warmth, comfort, and protection. Teepees were covered by blankets and hides that were covered in pine pitch or spruce gum to make the dwellings more waterproof.
The Symbolism of Blankets Remains Unchanged
Although the original blanket materials have been replaced by more modern equivalents, blankets are a powerful symbol. Blankets will continue to remain an important part of First Nations culture, life and death for millennia in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
Resources to Learn More About Blanketing
- Traditional Dress: Knowledge & Methods of Old-Time Clothing by Adolf Hungrywolf
- Salish Blankets: Robes of Protection and Transformation, Symbols of Wealth by Janice (Chepximiya Siyam) George, Leslie H. Tepper, and Willard (Skwetsimltexw) Joseph