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The Steven Michaan Collection of North American Tribal Art : The Art of the Spirit World : Woodlands

A Tale of Four Ladles

Northeastern / Eastern Canada Woodlands Otter Effigy Ladle Eastern Great Lakes Woodlands Beaver Effigy Ladle
Northeastern (Hudson River Valley) Woodlands Beaver Effigy Ladle Northeastern (Hudson River Valley) Woodlands Beaver Effigy Ladle

Four 18th Century ladles, one depicting an otter and the others incorporating beaver into their design, reinforce the status of the animals within the Woodlands cultures and honor them as integral to the Woodlands diet, clothing (pelts) and mythology.

Beaver skin hats were the height of fashion in Europe during the 17th & 18th Centuries and the indigenous European beaver had been hunted to near extinction. The new world offered what appeared to be an unending supply of valuable skins.

The Dutch, English and French settlers, who arrived in the early 17th century, understood the enormous commercial value of beaver and otter pelts, and the totemistic animals quickly assumed a darker meaning within the tribes.

North American export posts were set up and trade routes were established with both the Algonquian and Iroquoian Nations. Competition between the tribes developed, quickly escalated and suddenly one of the bloodiest eras in American history as ‘The Beaver Wars’ began in earnest.

Centered around the early European settlements on the Hudson River, the Mohawk (Iroquois) and Mahican (Algonquin) tribes fought fiercely to gain control of the fur trade. The Dutch and English backed the Iroquois, who occupied most of present day upstate New York, while the French backed the Algonquian tribes of New England and the Great Lakes.

The Iroquois held an offensive edge and by the mid-17th century the tribe’s influence extended west to the Ohio and north to Ontario, in the process defeating the Huron, the Susquehannocks and the Erie. In the latter 17th century they moved farther westward towards present day Michigan and Illinois, seeking to conquer the Miami, Pottawatomie and the Illinois.

Alliances changed as the 17th century progressed and English influence on the Continent grew at the expense of the French. The Iroquois began to see the English as more dangerous than the French and the French-backed Algonquians. In an effort to halt English expansion into Iroquois territory, they reversed alliances.

Tribal elders met with the French in Montreal and signed the Great Peace of Montreal in 1701 between New France and forty First Nations of North America. Present for the diplomatic event were the various peoples; part of the Iroquois confederacy, the Huron peoples, and the Algonquian peoples.