Archaeologists propose that tens of thousands of years ago a somewhat uniform culture stretched around the northernmost regions of the globe from Greenland and Scandinavia to northern Asia and Siberia.

The peoples of this circumpolar culture shared a common history and many religious beliefs and practices including:

animism, shamanism, and ceremonies centered around hunting and animals.

 Beginning as long as 60,000 years ago, the peoples of northern Asia migrated across what is now the Bering Sea to Alaska

and Canada, and then down through the Great Plains of North America to Central and South America.

The culture of these migrants, the ancestors of the North American Indians, incorporated elements of religion based on both nomadic hunting (mountain and sky gods) and agriculture (earth goddesses, shrines, and temples).

For the Native American Cosmology: animals, places, even stones and trees can possess spirits

that interact with humans in a kind of cosmic harmony.

The Native American Clothing

Native American clothing prior to the arrival of Europeans was different

depending on the tribe and the climate where the tribe lived. However, there were some general similarities. 

The primary material used by Native Americans in their clothing was made from animal hides. Generally they used the hides of the animals they hunted for food. Many tribes such as the Cherokee and Iroquois used deerskin.

While the Plains Indians, who were bison hunters, used buffalo skin and the Inuit from Alaska used seal or caribou skin. 

Many Native American nations also learned to treat leather to make it waterproof,

which was essential for staying warm and dry.

That same idea is also why many animal-skin clothing articles are covered in fringe;

the design helps pull water off the fabric so it dries quicker.
Some tribes learned how to make clothing from plants or weaving thread.

These included the Navajo and Apache, who learned how to make woven blankets and tunics, and the Seminole of Florida. 

Often times clothing would be decorated.

The Native Americans would use feathers, animal fur such as ermine or rabbit, porcupine quills.

Prior to the Europeans arriving, American Indians used wood, shells, and bone to make beads to decorate their clothing and make jewelry. Later they would start using the European's glass beads.

Roles of Clothing

With some of these materials and styles in mind, we need to consider what role clothing played in Native American societies.

Just think of how much clothing means to us today; it was no different back then.

An article of clothing was designed not only for its utility but also

to communicate vital information about national and personal identity.

What tribe did you come from, what family or clan did you belong to, and what was your personal story?

All of that information was encoded in the style of clothing you wore, and the way that clothing was decorated.

Of course, some clothing had extra-special significance.

Ceremonial shirts were worn only during religious rituals, for dancing, or for warfare.

These shirts were made and decorated in ways that carried deep spiritual significance.

Many Native American cultures also utilized headdresses as an important form of ceremonial clothing.

Being so important, these headdresses often used one of the most valuable materials coveted across North America: feathers.

Feathers were highly prize items, in some places only worn by rulers.