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DrasticDreamer's avatar

Help with Native American tribal beads and colors?

Asked by DrasticDreamer (23983points) July 10th, 2016

For years, I’ve been extremely curious what tribe my great grandma belonged to. I was never able to figure it out, because she was “adopted”, her name changed, and then the orphanage that had all of her original paperwork burned to the ground. When my grandma was young, she was sent to a Catholic boarding school and so she didn’t really spend much time with my great grandma. When she was older and they were around each other more, it never came up much. I don’t know if it was because my great grandma didn’t like talking about her past much or what, but my grandma was never sure which tribe she belonged to.

Anyway, my mom had some bead jewelry that my great grandma made. So I’m wondering whether or not tribes used certain colors, or certain patterns that might be able to help me discern which tribe it was? I have to go by memory, because something happened to the beadwork, but it’s one of the only ways left to me to figure out that part of my ancestry. Does anyone know if tribes used specific patterns or colors?

I know for sure it would be a tribe of the Pacific Northwest, but that’s it.

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10 Answers

jca's avatar

Tribes of the Pacific northwest are Kwakiutl, Tlingit and Haida.

I took an art history class in college – it was something like “Art of the Pacific Northwest” and we learned about the Kwakiutl and the Tlingit. The professor talked a lot about the potlatch ceremony. If you google the art of the Pacific northwest, you’ll see a lot of outlines and figures that are often on totem poles – raven, bear, orca. As far as colors, I’m not sure but perhaps an art history professor who specializes in this area might know, or try googling.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

We have a unit attached to our state library that helps Aboriginal people track down their heritage. You could see if there’s anything similar in the US. They would know for sure whether these beads will help you. If you have any information about relatives, that might help too. Aboriginal people here have long memories about families that belong to their communities.

imrainmaker's avatar

Do you have photograph of your great grandmother by any chance(if it was around at the time she lived)? It can be a great help for you to match the features with different tribes as per my understanding each tribe should have some unique features which can tell from which tribe she belonged.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

I’ll look into it, guys, thanks.

@imrainmaker Yeah, I have a picture of her, but she was really old in it. The most identifying feature in my opinion were here unbelievable cheekbones.

YARNLADY's avatar

If you can pay for an expert to do the research for you, it might help. Many people who are looking for ancestors seem to expect free help from experts who have spent years working on their skills.

rojo's avatar

Not an answer to you question but maybe a good starting points?

This one has information on the various symbols that may be incorporated and that might give you direction.

This one won’t help identify the tribe but could be useful in figuring out what the beads are and what they were used for.

rojo's avatar

@DrasticDreamer Do you know where you grandmother/great grandmother were when they were together? I believe that many times the children were shipped to schools that were great distances away from their tribe and family to both discourage them from running away and to break the bonds that held them to their tribes through isolation.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@rojo The only thing I know for sure is that her tribe was in the Pacific Northwest, which is where my family and I still live. Her beadwork was yellow, red, blue, white and black. Other than diamond shapes, there was an eagle or a thunderbird on her jewelry, so your link with the symbols is definitely helpful. Thank you.

imrainmaker's avatar

Can you post picture of it so that people can see and respond?

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@imrainmaker No, I wish. This is all from memory, since I don’t know what happened to them. My mom doesn’t know where they are, which makes me genuinely sad. Be we all agree on coloring and animals depicted.

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