Quillwork, Andrea Whiteplume, Nez Perce Tribe

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Andrea Whiteplume: Ta'c haláxp 'íinim we'níkt wées hinmatomwínanmay, Andrea Whiteplume. Na'toot hiiwes Burnett Lee Whiteplume Jr., ne'íic hiiwes Ramona Whiteplume. My name is Andrea Whiteplume, again, my name. I come from here in Lapwai, Idaho. I was born and raised here within the Nez Perce homelands. I come from a long line of porcupine quillers and basketry makers and hide tanners and the various artistic forms that we have within our Nimiipuu culture.

Andrea Whiteplume: I've been doing quillwork for about 13 years. I learned from my auntie, Lana Street, from North Dakota. She came over and visited our family, and she was working on some quillwork items, and I seen my mom could do quillwork as well, but she wasn't actively doing it at that time. And I became interested, and I asked her some questions, and she just asked me if I wanted to learn.

Andrea Whiteplume: I wanted to continue learning these ways because I know that it's important to stay connected to our culture and stay connected to who we are and who we identify ourselves, through how we dress ourselves and how we endure our family, how we present ourselves to the creator, and how we present ourselves to each other and present ourselves to the world.

Andrea Whiteplume: This is a cuff that my mother and I made for my dad. We kind of both took turns working on these, on this item. There's a set. This is entirely made out of ... the colors right here are all entirely made out of the porcupine quills. And we get these from harvesting or finding. Nowadays, we find them, usually like a roadkill or you know farmers. Sometimes they think of them as, I guess, pests and they don't want them around in their fields. So that's how we get them, too, is by donation. But these strips that they're wrapped on, they are traditionally rawhide, and the backing for this is leather, and the edging for this is a moose hide.

Andrea Whiteplume: This is the otter cape, and the men wear it on their shoulders, on their shoulders and draped over. It's draped over their shoulders like this. But this whole middle part is also just all quillwork. Same thing, all raw hide and porcupine quills, just weaved differently. It's a whole set, but this is the bigger pieces to the outfit, is the cuffs and that middle piece on the otter cape.

Andrea Whiteplume: I've taught my daughter. My daughter is still in the beginning stages of learning how to do quillwork. Right now, we're working on patience, on sorting, because it takes a lot of patience. You know you get a porcupine, and you pull all the quills off, and then you're going through and you're picking and choosing between each porcupine quill, which one to keep and which one to ... how you're going to use it. And primarily, you want to get the longer, not too thick, not too thin quills to make, to have them come out even so your designs look nice.

Andrea Whiteplume: The materials I need to perform the medium of quillwork, we have a close connection to our environment, with porcupine. Porcupine is a symbol of protection. And having the rawhide, we use it from our four-legged relatives, either the deer or the elk or the moose or buffalo. We stretch the hide and we cut the strips from them. And it's important that we gather these things within our home because then we are having, establishing or we have this ... these are all actions of gratitude for our relatives, our animal relatives that you know we've learned a lot from these relatives, and they're some of our oldest teachers, and this is how we can take care of ourselves. So, it's important.

Andrea Whiteplume: Historically, it was women, women did the quillwork, and times have changed. A lot of men do this work as well. And a lot of the traditional aspects behind it, you know a lot of it is it's a high trade value item. We kind of had a little bit of a disconnect for the Nez Perce because we have a lot of bead work, very beautiful, intricate bead work and designs, but prior to colonization and the trade routes that we have, we endured ourselves with this quillwork.

Andrea Whiteplume: This set is used with more bright, vibrant colors. It's more for like a teenage to a woman size person. The backing on here is buckskin and instead of the straight lines, these are cut in circles. And these are two-rowed medallions and hair ties. And one of the more modern things is having a little bow. A lot of girls like having the little bow in their hair. But having the different various colors, you need to have more quills, so it takes a little bit more time, and it takes a lot of effort and a lot of work, and a lot of love and things go into these, making these types of things for young women. As times have changed, women have learned to endear themselves and learn to dress up themselves as well as the men. And with these items, we can help support and heal and show our love for the woman folk as well.

Andrea Whiteplume: Bringing home our artifacts from our ancestors is important because we are healing, we are healing people. We've been through a lot of trauma, and the rekindlement of our relationship to ourselves is important, and it's the most self love we can do for our people. So I think it's very important that these, our ancestral artifacts come home and return and help us guide us along through that journey.

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9 minutes, 11 seconds

Andrea Whiteplume discusses her quillwork techniques.

Last updated: June 22, 2021