The tradition of Meskwaki ribbonwork: cultural meanings, continuity, and change

Ackerman, Brenda
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Applied decoration of garments is common practice for the majority of Native American tribes in North America. Ribbonwork, a textile art form, is a method of applied decoration to dress prevalent in Indian tribes originating from the Great Lakes Region. This study examines the tradition of ribbonwork from the perspectives of those who make it and wear it. Participants are from the Meskwaki Nation of Iowa where the tradition of ribbonwork has been in existence for over 175 years. Though the materials used are not native in origin, the traditional method of applied decoration to garments continues as a form of ethnic dress that is a visual marker of identity as it has for centuries. The results show that through the process of cultural authentication, ribbonwork is selected from non-indigenous materials, incorporated into the culture, and transformed into a unique textile form. Contemporary versions of ribbonwork reflect the past in the motifs, assembly, and color, and the changes that have occurred in ribbonwork do not alter its meaning. Tradition is not static; tradition is subject to change. There is continuity in the cultural meanings assigned to the role and function of ribbonwork and it continues to exemplify Meskwaki tradition. Adaptation to use of available materials surrounding their environment resulted in an innovative and creative response to change: the lack of one material is generally substituted by another, and so the tradition continues.

Textiles and clothing;