Unreserved·Podcast Exclusive

A short history of Indigenous blankets in Canada

From the Hudson Bay point blankets, to button blankets, and star quilts, this week Unreserved is taking a look at the history of blankets in Indigenous communities. In this podcast exclusive, Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour from Library and Archives Canada leads us through that history. 
Elizabeth Montour is an Indigenous archivist for Library and Archives Canada who has researched the history of Indigenous blankets in Canada. (Provided by Elizabeth Montour)
Listen7:19

From the Hudson Bay point blankets, to button blankets, and star quilts, this week Unreserved is taking a look at the history of blankets in Indigenous communities. In this podcast exclusive, Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour from Library and Archives Canada leads us through that history. 

From the Hudson Bay point blankets, to button blankets, and star quilts, this week Unreserved is taking a look at the history of blankets in Indigenous communities. In this podcast exclusive, Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour from Library and Archives Canada leads us through that history. 7:19

As an Indigenous research archivist for Library and Archives Canada, Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour is familiar with the history of Indigenous blankets in Canada. 

"A blanket may hold purposes and traditions that are deeply embedded in [Indigenous] cultures," said Montour. 

"They are used in the celebration of birth, life events, and sometimes with death." 

The earliest recorded Indigenous blankets were made with materials collected from nature, with the most obvious material being animal pelts. 

Indigenous people made blankets from materials found in nature. In this photograph from 1916, a Nuu-chah-nulth woman wraps herself in a blanket made of woven cedar bark. (Library and Archives Canada)

"Another example of using natural materials is in the northwest coast Chilkat blankets," said Montour.

"It's a highly regarded ceremonial and dance blanket of goat hair mixed with cedar bark, which will take a year or longer to make." 

With the arrival of Europeans, blankets used by Indigenous people changed with the introduction of the wool blankets, such as the Hudson Bay point blankets.

"They were used as a trade item for fur pelts, they were easier to sew than animal skins, and were fashioned into coats known as capotes," said Montour, so said the introduction of these blankets made First Nations dependent on the Hudson Bay Company. 

A modern style of blanket that is still very popular among Indigenous communities is the star quilt.

"I remember the first time I laid eyes on a star quilt … I thought it was stunning, beautiful and mesmerizing. I could feel its power," said Montour. 

"Recently AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde stated star quilts are designs of First Nations … [and that] when you are wrapped in a star quilt blanket your ancestors are amongst you and with you."

To learn more about the research done at Library and Archives Canada, visit their blog