Object: Headdress

E/1982/11/9
Headdress
Niitsítapi (aka. Blackfoot Confederacy)
North America: Northern Plains or Southern Canada
unknown date (likely early 20th century)
Materials: Felt, ermine (or weasel) fur, feathers, glass beads, wood, and cotton cloth

This headdress has been attributed to the Niitsítapi people of the northern United States and southern Canada. Niitsítapi, also known as the Blackfoot Confederacy, consists of four separate yet related tribes. These tribes include the Aapátohsipikáni (or North Peigan), Aamsskáápipikani (Piegan Blackfeet or South Piegan), Káínaa (Kainai Nation), and the Siksikáwa (or Siksika Nation “Blackfoot”). These groups share a common dialect of the Algonquin language, they also historically worked together for mutual defense, and frequently intermarry.

The fur found on this headdress comes from ermine pelts. Ermine (Mustela erminea), sometimes called short tailed weasels or stoat, are a species of small carnivorous weasel that is common throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. They were recently introduced in New Zealand as well, and have since become a pest species causing catastrophic losses to native bird species. Ermine live in a wide variety of habitats including: woodlands, marshes, and open areas adjacent to forests or shrub borders. While ermine spend most of their time on the ground they can also climb trees and swim. Ermine use tree roots, hollow logs, stone walls, and rodent burrows as dens. Ermine are carnivores that hunt primarily at night. They primarily eat small mammals of rabbit size and smaller but, when prey is scarce, they can also eat birds, eggs, worms, frogs, fish, and insects. In severe climates, ermine frequently hunt under snow or in burrows and can survive entirely on small rodents.

Similar headdresses can be found at the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park, the British Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, and others. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

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