Porcupine quillwork, the Anishinaabe and federal policies

Learn more about the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990.

The Anishinaabe are well known for many things, but one item in particular is their specific type of porcupine quillwork. As an indigenous art form, the techniques and stories have been passed down through the generations to ensure its survival.

The information that is typically shared from one generation to the next includes:
  • Responsible harvesting techniques of resources such as:
    • Birch Bark
    • Sweet grass
    • Porcupine quills
  • Preservation methods
  • Designs
  • Stories and cultural significance to the art form

There are many items that are made from porcupine quillwork such as quill boxes, quill work on clothing, jewelry, bags, belts and moccasins. Some indigenous artists use only natural quills in their work while others choose to dye their quills in rich colors of red, blue, green, pink and many others. Quill boxes were often created for daily use such as storage containers for berries, medicines, food and other items. The design on the top of the box usually signified what the contents of the box consisted of. Beyond the top design, the box may have other designs, colors and shapes that could signify region, family or a spiritual significance. Beginning in the late 1970s, much quill work production began to transition from functionality to a main source of income for the Odawa and other indigenous people in Michigan. This occurred because finding employment and employers who would hire indigenous people where difficult to find and families needed income to provide food and shelter. To ensure the protection of indigenous art, enterprises of individual indigenous craftsmen or groups, and promote the development of Indian arts the Indian Arts and Crafts of 1935 was passed and thus created the, "Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1935." Through this act a Board was created to being creating recommendations and policies to ensure the preservation and support for indigenous arts. Then, 55 years later The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 was passed. Through this law, individuals who misrepresent themselves as Indian artist in marketing, display for sale or sell any art or craft product that falsely suggested that what they made was Indian products were found in violation of that Act. Those who are a member of any federally or state recognized tribe or an individual who is recognized as an Indian artist by a federally or state recognized tribe may market and sell their products. If you have not ever seen porcupine quill qork and would like to learn more about contact a Michigan Tribal Nation to seek guidance, visit the Michigan State University Museum, Sisters of the Great Lakes: Art of American Indian Women - A Virtual Exhibit, Central Michigan University Clarke Historical Library, or the Harbor Springs History Museum.

To learn more about Tribal Governance and Good Governance please contact Emily Proctor, Tribal Extension Educator with questions or comments at (231)-439-8927 or proctor8@anr.msu.edu. For more information please visit the MSU Extension website. This article was published by MSU Extension. To contact an expert in your area, visit the MSU Experts page

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