Regalia Class participants experience Potawatomi collection at Eiteljorg Museum

Earlier this year, the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis, Ind. acquired more than 400 historic objects made by Indigenous peoples in the Great Lakes area. Because the collection includes dozens of items of appliqué, dedicated participants of Kë Wzhetomen Mizhathëwen, regalia making class, visited the Eiteljorg to see some of these items in person.

The collection features beadwork sashes, appliqué blankets/skirts, moccasins, feast bags, and more. These items were sold to the museum by a private collector named Richard Pohrt Jr., who inherited the collection from his father, Richard Pohrt Sr.

While museums have a long and problematic history of cultural theft, private collectors are not accountable to the same laws that museums are today. This means that priceless cultural items are often stored in poor conditions and mishandled by private collectors. So, while the ideal case would be that these items never left the communities that made them, making sure they are taken out of private auction and collection is the next best strategy. Unlike private collections, museum items are accessible to Native peoples who want to see them, and some are eligible for repatriation.

Scott M. Shoemaker, citizen of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and curator of Native American Art, History, and Culture at the Eiteljorg, is collaborating with various tribes for repatriation, exhibition, programming, and education around the objects in the Pohrt Collection.

As part of a thank-you for their hard work in making last year’s Zagbëgon graduates’ regalia, Nicole Holloway, cultural activities coordinator, and Blaire Topash-Caldwell, archivist, collaborated on organizing this trip for the group. On October 22, the group interacted with dozens of Potawatomi bandolier bags, sashes, appliqué blankets, moccasins, and more. Soaking in the inspiration and designs of their ancestors, the seamstresses and artists are ready to apply what they’ve learned from the trip.

The Pohrt Collections is unique because Potawatomi materials are not popularly collected in large museums, so a lot of our ancestral designs and methods of construction have been forgotten. It is hoped that this visit and future work inspired by the collection will revive a strong Potawatomi tradition of sewing, beadwork, weaving, and design for Pokagon citizens.