Native Americans at The Field Museum

Complementing the Ancient Americas exhibition, the Hall of Native North Americans continues the story of the people who first lived on this continent. The Native American exhibition features artifacts from major tribes across North America. These thousands of objects tell stories of the daily lives and religion of Native Peoples, and reflect the importance of understanding the indigenous culture of North America.

The minute they walk into The Field Museum’s main hall, visitors are introduced to the Native American collection by two enormous red cedar totem poles from British Columbia. Ornately carved with figures of grizzly bears, birds, and killer whales, the poles stand over 20 feet tall. The figures represent specific families, similar to the crests of European noble families. The totem poles stood outside or attached to homes as indicators of the inhabitants. 

Passing the totem poles, visitors enter the Hall of Native North Americans, where hundreds of artifacts demonstrate the diverse lifestyles of indigenous Americans. Every aspect of life is covered, from food storage and clothing to war and spirituality. A number of displays even feature recreational games, including a set of colorful, early playing cards from Mexico.

The highlight of the Native North American exhibition is the Pawnee Earth Lodge. Recreated to exact specifications, the Earth Lodge allows visitors to enter the living space of the Pawnee Native American Tribe of Oklahoma. Wood frame beds, a fire pit, and animal hides create a sense of homely comfort as Museum docents tell stories and reveal interesting facts about the Pawnee Nation. Above the Earth Lodge is an illuminated night sky, and visitors can learn which celestial bodies were important to the Pawnee.

The Native American Collection at The Field continues in the Alsdorf Hall of Northwest Coast and Arctic Peoples. The Northwest Coast section showcases the incredible artistic talents of native people in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Not only are artworks such as totem poles and baskets on display but accompanying videos describe how these pieces are made today, using traditional methods. The Northwest Coast exhibition also boasts an incredible array of spiritual artifacts including a number of ritual masks and even a full scale recreation of a tribal initiation ceremony.

The Arctic side of the Alsdorf Hall focuses on how Inuit people survive the harsh cold of the far north. Visitors can peek into a recreation of a semi-subterranean home, built partially into the earth to provide insulated shelter from the wind and frigid temperatures. Videos follow an Inuit tribe as they live, hunt, and eat throughout the year. Complementing the stunning imagery are forms of Inuit transportation, including a toboggan and seal-skin kayak, either of which could be used depending on the time of year.

The Native American collection at The Field Museum is a comprehensive look into the lives of the indigenous peoples of North America. From buffalo hunting to rug weaving and spiritual dances, visitors can get an inside look into the ways of life which dominated this land years before the first European settlers arrived.

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