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The Eastern Woodlands. The Region. Because the region is so large, it is broken into smaller geographic regions. There are actually three distinct areas: The Great Lakes The Northeast The Southeast The Great Lakes region is included with the Northeast for this class.

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Presentation Transcript
the region
The Region
  • Because the region is so large, it is broken into smaller geographic regions.
  • There are actually three distinct areas:
    • The Great Lakes
    • The Northeast
    • The Southeast
  • The Great Lakes region is included with the Northeast for this class.
the environment

The Woodlands are characterized by enormous forests.

Many of the trees are deciduous and lose their leaves each year.

Even though America has lost 90% of our forests, the general feel of the Woodlands is still evident.

Since there has been such a vast amount of wood available in the Eastern Woodlands for thousands of years, the use of wood in artistic construction is also prominent.

The Environment
the lifestyle
The Lifestyle

Life in the Eastern Woodlands has been primarily sedentary since the Archaic Period.

People lived in villages and towns, with outlying sites for food gathering, production and procurement.

A network of trade routes and information systems existed thousands of years before Contact through which goods, ideas and materials traveled.

There was a heavier reliance on agriculture in the southeast, and hunting and gathering in the northeast.

Climates varied considerably from one end of the range to the other.

the people
The People

The tribes of the Eastern Woodlands are the descendents and inheritors of the prehistoric cultural complex from the Archaic period.

In both the Northeast and Southeast, there are Ceremonial Complexes which illustrate the continuity of cultural and artistic connection from thousands of years ago, to today.

the impact of contact
The impact of Contact


  • • Disease had terrible impact on the tribes of the Eastern Woodlands as a result of Contact and this had powerful effect on the artistic production of tribes.
  • • In some communities, the death rates were complete and there were no survivors. In others, the loss of life impaired traditions and culture to the extent that they were unable to recover.
  • • In some cases, all that remains of some tribes are the few pieces of art that have survived.






Population pressures…

the northeast
The Northeast

Tribes relied on hunting and gathering for subsistence, living in villages and year-round communities. Sme nations also farmed the “3 sisters”: corn, beans, squash.

Sedentary agricultural villages
  • Farming supplemented by hunting
    • The ratio of hunting to farming varied
    • Coastal people relied more on fish and shellfish
  • Housing: longhouse/wigwam
  • Extensive “warfare” before Europeans
  • Highly developed political structures
tribes and alliances
Tribes and Alliances

While there were many political alliances between tribes in the Northeast, one of the most famous is the Iroquois Confederacy – the People of the Longhouse.

The Six Nations – or Haudenosaunee, remain a powerful alliance of six tribes.







the southeast
The Southeast

Tribes relied on agricultural practices for subsistence, and lived in sedentary towns.

Intensive agriculture in well watered river valleys and piedmont.
  • Centralized political organization.
  • Moundbuilders (remember this is a time period not a tribe): highly developed social and religious organization.
  • Diffusion of religious ideas from Olmec of Mexico
southeastern tribal nations
Southeastern Tribal Nations
  • While there were many political alliances between tribes in the Southeast, one of the most famous group of nations is the Five Civilized Tribes.
  • The Five Tribes may have been adversaries in the past, but are political and social allies today.






artistic traditions
Artistic Traditions

Changes in artistic conventions and traditions occurred first in the Woodlands because the trade materials and influences were present.


One of the few textile forms that is produced without a loom.


Silver working replaced Native “cold hammer” metalworking traditions after Contact.


The elaborate carving and decoration of shells extends from the prehistoric period to the present in the Eastern Woodlands.

northeastern basketry
Northeastern Basketry

Splint and wickerwork basketry is very common, but many other styles are also produced.

southeastern basketry
Southeastern Basketry

Wicker weave and split river-cane baskets are the forms most commonly produced, but coiled pine needle baskets are also found.


Wooden implements like this Chippewa ladle and Narragansett bowl are rare.

Many carved wooden items were destroyed during the early years of Contact in an effort to eradicate disease epidemics.

Young men were often responsible for carving the household dishes and utensils for their family.

false face masks
False Face Masks

A tradition of the northern part of the Eastern Woodlands, these masks have been carved for thousands of years.

To carve a mask, one must be a member of the False Face Society.

The masks are cared for by the Clan Mothers, but are used by men in healing ceremonies.

There are many different kinds of masks because there are many illnesses to heal.

husk face masks
Husk Face Masks

These masks are found throughout the Woodlands and are used for healing in the home.

Most families would maintain husk faces for healing common illnesses and complaints.

booger masks
Booger Masks

This style of mask comes from the southern part of the Woodlands.

Carved by Cherokee artists for dance performance, healing, and ceremonial use.

They continued to be carved and used by members of the Eastern Band Cherokee in North Carolina.


Quillwork was first impacted in the Woodlands, and eventually nearly replaced by the use of glass seed beads for decorating clothing and other items.

moosehair embroidery
Moosehair Embroidery

A tradition which continues to be produced by a few families today.

  • The first tiny glass seed beads were introduced in the Woodlands as trade items, along with silk ribbon and fabrics, from the French and English.
  • Native artisans quickly adapted these colorful and durable beads to clothing and adornment.
  • Their desirability created change within tribal economic systems.
  • The new glass beads nearly replaced the tradition of porcupine quillwork.
  • Floral motifs are most common in Woodlands beadwork traditions.

Warclubs and other defensive weapons were created in response to Contact. These were not weapons used in hunting, only for combat. Tomahawks were an early “favorite” trade item.


Both stone and wood are used in sculpture.

rowena bradley cherokee
Rowena Bradley – Cherokee

Split river-cane baskets with natural dyes.

marcus amerman choctaw
Marcus Amerman, Choctaw

Specialty - beaded portraiture.

cyril henry onondaga
Cyril Henry, Onondaga

Soapstone carvings.

mary kawennatakie mohawk
Mary Kawennatakie, Mohawk

Sweetgrass and black ash splint basketry.