This the French edition of the exhibition catalogue about Premières nations collections royales : les Indiens des forêts et des prairies d'Amérique du Nord, Quai Branly Museum, in Paris.
The exhibition gathers in an unprecedented way a rather unknown part of the collections of the Quai Branly Museum: 86 items from North America that constitute the first material documents related to the first nations of Canada and Native Americans in the United States. By resetting these objects in the context of the history of the French ethnographic collections, the exhibition emphasises Europe’s deep interest for this region and the way it preserved its cultural heritage until today.
Genuine witnesses of the first exchanges between Europeans and North American populations, most these items were brought back during the 17th and 18th centuries by explorers, officials, merchants or anonymous missionaries assigned in Louisiana and New France.
Taken by these settlers out of curiosity, as souvenirs of their own adventure in these foreign lands or as proof of the artistic ingeniousness of the peoples they had met, the works of art were kept in the cabinets of curiosities of aristocrats and scientists and were part of the royal collections that gave birth to our current museums from the 18th century.
The life style of the inhabitants of the “New World”
The exhibition presents costumes, ornaments, weapons and tools and includes the most considerable and ancient painted buffalo-skins in the world. It highlights the originality of the creations by extremely varied groups, such as the Naskapi tribe from Labrador, the Micmac tribe from Acadia, the Huron, Mohawk and Abenaki tribes from the valley of the Saint-Laurent river and the Ojibwa tribe from the western region of the Great Lakes.
These extraordinary works of art now constitute a genuine access to native history. In their own way, they tell how these people lived and how their lives were shattered by the arrival of Europeans in the part of the world that stretched from the east of the actual Canada to the west of the Great Lakes region and went down all along the Mississippi valley to Louisiana.
“Premières nations, Collections royales” presents the incredible diversity of artistic production of the populations and show the complementarities of the men and the women’s roles in these traditional societies as far as creation is concerned: painted buffalo-skins, decorated caribou-coats, jewels made of porcupine spine or horsehair. It also shows weapons that illustrate how the tribes hunted and went to war, and bartering items made of fish-skin, otterskin or eagle feathers. All these works prove the technical skills, the savoir-faire and the extreme refinement of these populations. The exhibition also emphasise the changes the local peoples had to undergo: the introduction of metal tools and weapons (knives and hatchets), glass gems, firearms, the emergence of Christianity and the marketing of indigenous products.
Some objects testify of the colonisation process, for example buffalo-skins representing European scenes and decors.