The Wishram people, a tribe residing along the Columbia River, possessed a vibrant cultural heritage and are known for their intricate basketry, fishing expertise, and deep reverence for the natural world. The Wishram man spearing salmon in this image provides clear evidence of their closest environmental alliance: the river. The river primarily offered most of the Wishram diet, including sturgeon, eel, and salmon.
Situated in the center of crucial regional trade routes, the Wishram served as an essential trading strategist for the area. Their trading economy was mainly comprised of canoes, fish, blankets, and even enslaved people captured from neighboring tribes. Modern-day dam construction greatly impacted the ancestral lands of the Wishram and destroyed their independence.
The Navajo people have a diverse pantheon of gods and goddesses. The ritualistic mask worn by a Navajo man in this image is representative of the deity Haschebaad. The mask is worn during medicinal ceremonies as the goddess's power is believed to bless the sick. Only Navajo men are permitted to wear this mask.
Unlike masks representing masculine deities, the Haschebaad mask allows the men to display their hair further to emphasize the more feminine characteristics of the goddess. While not particularly ornate, the mask always has a piece of abalone shell and either turkey, woodpecker, or eagle feathers attached.
Shows as He Goes
Shows, as He Goes (yes, this was his full name), was an eminent chief that fought in several running battles against the advancing United States government. By the time the photographer, historian, and ethnologist Edward S. Curtis took this image, Shows, as He Goes, had long been retired from the battlefront.
The famed “Indian Wars” were over, a new struggle for land independence was fought through courts, and legal counsel had begun. Shows as He Goes most likely belonged to the Crow nation, who were dominant in the northern parts of the United States around states such as Montana and North and South Dakota.
The wide-eyed Jicarilla girl in this image is dressed in her traditional “feast dress.” The feast dress is a particularly ornate garment that signifies a young Jicarilla woman’s entry into womanhood. The cape is decorated with lunar patterns symbolizing the phases of the moon and the feminine cycle.
The feast itself is a celebration that lasts up to four days, where the women of the community share experiences and lessons with the girl. The advent of domestic sewing machines in the late 19th century did little to change the tradition of the dress and elevated it to an even more unique status.
A young Cheyenne woman gazes intently into the camera lens. Her gaze became immortalized in the sixth volume of Edward Curtis’ seminal "The North American Indian" book series. The Cheyenne nation she belonged to was one of the most influential nations in Native American politics and history.
The Cheyenne's intricate trading and bartering system saw them amass a sizeable economy primarily based on goods produced from bison. Once the competing tribes and European settlers hunted the buffalo to near extinction, though, the Cheyenne lost their economic footing and had to rely on the United States government for financial assistance.