Forces of Change

Innu: Dressed for Respect

Innu hunters wore elaborately decorated coats to honor the spirit master of the caribou. If pleased, the spirit master would release his wards. And then the caribou would “allow” themselves to be killed by Innu hunters.

Smithsonian scientists have worked with the Innu people of Quebec and Labrador for over 120 years. Some of the Innu artifacts in the Arctic Studies Center were collected by Smithsonian naturalist Lucien M. Turner during the First International Polar Year in 1883.

Caribou skin coat
The motifs that decorate this coat were revealed to Innu men in their dreams. The designs represent a symbolic map of the spirit world.
Photo Donald Hurlbert © Smithsonian Institution
Paint sticks
Fork-like sticks were used to paint complicated patterns on clothing.  Traditionally, paints were made from a variety of mineral and plant materials. At about the time Turner collected these objects, imported European dyes became available.
Photo Donald Hurlbert © Smithsonian Institution