Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
September 2004

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Dishes Used by Canadian Natives



[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico . It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North American Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]



Vessels for the preparation and serving of food and other purposes were manufactured by all Indian tribes. While their use as receptacles prescribes a concavity of circular, oval, or oblong outline, there is a great variety of shape, decoration, etc., according to individual taste or tribal custom, and a wide range of material, as stone, shell, bone, ivory, horn, rawhide, bark, wood, gourd, pottery, and basketry.


The vessels for serving food were not used to hold individual portions, for the Indians ate in common; but the little dishes held salt and other condiments, small quantities of delicate foods, etc. The larger dishes contained preparations of corn and other soft vegetables, and the trays and platters were for game, bread, etc., or for mixing or preparing food. In many cases the cooking pot held the common meal, and portions were taken out by means of small dishes and ladles, in which they were cooled and eaten. Some dishes bad special uses, as platters, mats, and trays for drying fruits, roasting seeds, etc., and as ceremonial bowls, baskets, etc.


From archaeological sites have been collected many examples of dishes. Some made of soapstone were found in several Eastern and Southern states, and in Wyoming and California . Vessels formed of seashells, cut principally from Busycon, and also from Cassis, Strombus, and Fasciolaria, were found in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Arkansas, Georgia and Florida. Dishes of pottery come from many parts of the United States and some made of wood from Florida .


The Indians in general used dishes of wood, and even where pottery, basketry and bark were common, wooden vessels were made. Each region supplied suitable woods. A predilection for burl wood and knots was general. The majority of existing wooden vessels were fashioned with iron tools, but before metal was introduced they were excavated by means of fire and stone tools. [Inuit] wooden dishes were sometimes cut from a single piece, but they usually had a rim of bent wood fastened to the excavated bottom and were oval in shape. Those of the N. W. Coast tribes were boxes of rectangular shape, with scarfed and bent sides attached to the bottom; but the Indians also had excavated dishes carved to represent animal forms in great variety, and small. bowls of horn occur. The Salishan tribes made dishes of wood and horn which were elaborately carved. The northern Athapascans as a rule used dishes, platters, and trays of birch bark folded and sewed, but among some tribes the dishes were like those of the [Inuit].


The Chippewa had well-finished wooden dishes of rectangular, oval, or circular shape. The Iroquois made excellent dishes, cups, bowls, etc., of burl wood, and sometimes furnished them with handles. The Plains Indians also used in preference burl or knot wood, and while as a rule their dishes were simple in outline and homely, some specimens were well carved and finished.


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada, Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada, Ottawa, 1913, 632p., pp. 128-129.





© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College