First Nation peoples have diverse cultures, histories, languages and social circumstances. There is a wide selection of art projects possible, drawing from traditions ranging from Ojibwa floral bead work to Hopi water jugs. Each tribe uses specific materials, tools and processes based on its individual artistic tradition.
While it is good to appreciate and get inspiration from First Nation arts and crafts, it is important to respect the spiritual significance some native craft objects have. For instance, according to Native Languages of the Americas, it is offensive to make inaccurate copies of sacred objects such as kachina dolls or spirit masks. More appropriate choices would be dream catchers or beading projects, which do not have specific religious meanings.
First Nation arts often feature motifs from nature or geometric patterns. You can use traditional motifs in new ways; it isn’t necessary to reproduce indigenous works exactly. For instance, you might use acrylic paint to render patterns from Ojibwa floral bead work on paper, canvas or art board. Another possibility is to make electronic art by using illustration software to draw traditional geometric patterns from Tlingit basketry or Hopi pottery.
First Nation art often uses natural materials such as bark, animal hides, clay, wood or feathers. Again, it is not necessary to exactly reproduce indigenous art. You can use modern materials to produce your First Nation art projects. You might use plastic containers to fashion Hopi-style headdresses as worn in the autumn Butterfly Dance or use paper to roll Lakota-style beads.
Projects for Children
First Nation art projects can be integrated into lessons involving the history of the indigenous peoples of North America. A unit on the Lewis and Clark Expedition could include students learning about the traditional arts of any of the many nations the expedition encountered on its way west. For instance, children could do a project like the Lakota winter count. The winter count was a pictorial representation of the tribe’s history drawn on animal hide or muslin.
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