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Anthropology award goes to Blackfoot Shirts project

The shirts are close to 200 years old.

The Blackfoot Shirts Project was awarded the 2011 Michael M. Ames Prize for Innovative Museum Anthropology.

An exhibit that showcased five 200-year-old shirts from the Kainai First Nation has been awarded the 2011 Michael M. Ames Prize for Innovative Museum Anthropology.
The Council for Museum Anthropology of the American Anthropological Association awarded the prize to Dr. Laura Peters, Dr. Alison K. Brown and Heather Richardson for the Blackfoot Shirts Project.
Building on relationships developed first by Brown during her doctoral research in the late 1990s and then during a photographic history project with the Kainai First Nation, Peers, Brown and Richardson developed a project to lend five historic hairlock shirts from the Pitt Rivers Museum collection to the Glenbow Museum in Calgary and the Galt Museum and Archives in Lethbridge, both of which are located in traditional Blackfoot territory.
“The Galt Museum and Archives was proud to be a part of the historic Blackfoot Shirts project which brought such significant cultural pieces back to Blackfoot Territory for study and display,” said curator Wendy Aitkens, who was the Galt’s representative on the project. “Partnering in an international collaboration that included three museums, two universities and members of all four Blackfoot communities was an important part of the success of this innovative museum project.”
Peers is curator of the Americas, Pitt Rivers Museum and Reader in Material Anthropology at the University of Oxford, Brown is a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen and Richardson is head of conservation at the Pitt Rivers Museum.
Brown received the award on behalf of her colleagues at the American Anthropological Association 10th annual meeting in Montreal.
The five shirts are nearly 200 years old. They were collected in 1841 by Sir George Simpson, the governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and given to his secretary, Edward Hopkins.
The shirts have been in the Pitt Rivers Museum since 1893 but prior to the project only a handful of Blackfoot people had seen them.
As most surviving Blackfoot clothing from this period is now in museums in Europe, Blackfoot people are keen to access these materials so they can learn about the skills and techniques used by their ancestors.
The shirts are made from elk and deer hide and are adorned with porcupine quill embroidery, hide fringe, and strands of horse and human hair.
The quillwork designs are related to sacred stories of the Blackfoot people and one shirt has also been painted with the war deeds of its owner.