The Valuable-Commodity Continuum of Birds and their Feathers in the Northern Plains

Poster Session
, Maria Nieves - University of Arizona
, Wendi Field - North Dakota State Historical Society & Heritage Center

Taking historical information about Native American long distance trade networks as a point of departure, we explore the role of birds and feathers in the establishment of intertribal relations and trade partnerships between the Blackfoot and their western and eastern neighbors. Valuables such as birds and feathers—eagles in particular—illustrate concepts of value in Native American ontologies and allow for a deeper examination of the inalienable qualities of valuable objects generally categorized as ceremonial or sacred. We argue that trade promoted the existence of a broad political and cultural context within which feathers could be venerated, commoditized, and deployed to accumulate wealth, power, and prestige.