In appearance, our people were striking to the early Europeans. With long black hair, nearly black skin, high prominent cheekbones and painted faces, sometimes with tattoos, our people were comely and handsome. Our people were often taller than the white men. We kept ourselves clean and were very neat in dress and appearance.
Clothing was made of skins, feathers and plant material, sewn and held together with thread made from sinew. Women wore dresses, men shirts, and both wore leggings, all being made from deerskin. Moccasins were also made from deerskin, and decorated with shell beads, porcupine quills, bells, etc. Men wore a loin cloth or breech clout of soft buckskin, which passed between the legs and was brought up and folded over a deerskin belt, front and back. An interesting cross -cultural exchange took place after a while between the Native and white peoples: where our Native peoples first dressed in deerskin clothing, after the introduction of cloth in trading, we started to wear cloth and European style clothing, while the white men took up our deerskin clothing with the fringe.
Men and women wore stone and shell pendants, beads, necklaces, armbands and anklets, and earrings of stone, shells, animal teeth and claws. In wintertime, fur robes and leggings were worn; women sometimes wore shawls of feathers.
Hair was worn long by both men and women. It was looked upon as a thing sacred and unique to each person, a kind of signature, placed by the Creator upon each person at birth. It was one’s connection to spirit. Older men let their hair grow long, down beyond the shoulders. Boys and young men shaved their heads with a sharp flint, leaving a crest of long hair in the center which was greased to make it stand erect, or a long length of hair on a shaved head called a scalp lock was worn and decorated with shells, etc., according to personal preference.
Beards were not usually worn, the hairs being regularly pulled out using mussel shells as tweezers.
However, face hair grew back and became finer the more it was pulled. Men pulled out their facial hairs when they wished to paint their faces for war or ceremony. By 1800, most of the men could be found having scant, wispy beards.
Both men and women painted their faces using various colors according to personal design, men often painted their bodies as well. Women commonly used red, making spots on their cheeks, and painting their ears or around the eyes.
Tattooing was widely practiced by men and women. A design was drawn and pricked along the outline with a needle until blood was drawn, and then burnt, powdered poplar tree bark was spread thereon.
Source: “The Grandfathers Speak”, 1994
Interlink Books, New York