Gashkibidaaganag are intricately beaded bags made by Ojibwe artists and worn during special occasions, events, and dances, and in portraits. They could also be given as gifts or exchanged for items of value, for example, a single bag could be traded for a pony.
Gashkibidaaganag (plural for gashkibidaagan) are also known as bandolier bags. They feature a wide shoulder strap and large rectangular pouch covered with designs created using seed beads. In some cases, the beads are woven on a loom and the panel then sewn to the bag. In other cases, the beads are spot-stitch appliqued directly to the bag.
Because the bags are covered in glass seed beads, they are heavy. Often, men wear two of them during dances and other special events.
Plants and flowers serve as the inspiration for most gashkibidaaganag designs, with artists representing them with such accuracy that the plants can be identified from the designs.
Each bag is a distinct work of art that showcases each individual artist’s personality and design sensibility, just like an oil painting in an art museum. Unfortunately, early Ojibwe gashkibidaagan artists, most of whom were women, did not sign their works, so we don’t know exactly who made them.
Gashkibidaaganag continue to be made by Ojibwe artists today, the designs evolving to reflect current inspiration and culture. Because of the amount of time and skill it takes to make a gashkibidaagan, each one is highly treasured.
For more information on the history and artistry of Ojibwe gashkibidaaganag, check out the book “A Bag Worth a Pony: The Art of the Ojibwe Bandolier Bag” by Marcia G. Anderson.
The Morrison County Historical Society is fortunate to have 3 historical examples of gashkibidaaganag in its collections dating between approximately the 1880s and 1920.
Small Ojibwe Gashkibidaagan Owned by Jean Martinson
This particular gashkibidaagan is smaller than the other two in our collection and seems to be smaller than most other gashkibidaaganag we’ve seen.
It was purchased by Upsala resident Jean Martinson at a garage sale in Mispah, Minnesota. She paid a quarter for it.
The bag was originally taken as payment for a grocery store bill in the Turtle Mountains of North Dakota.
Jean owned the bag for 20 years before donating it to the museum in 1996.
The beadwork is spot-stitch applique. Note the floral motif and that the pattern from one side of the strap to the other is not identical.
Based on the design, this bag was likely produced by someone in the White Earth Band of Ojibwe.
Ojibwe Gashkibidaagan Owned by Ethel (Gourd) Hall
This Ojibwe gashkibidaagan was purchased by Ethel (Gourd) Hall in 1910 at Walker, Minnesota, on Leech Lake. Ethel and her husband Ralph lived at Round Lake in the Randall area of Morrison County.
Ethel’s father was Benjamin Franklin Rattling Gourd of the Cherokee Nation. He purchased land in Morrison County in 1909 and brought his family from Oklahoma in 1909/1910.
For the larger story behind this bag, visit the article “Ethel Gourd Hall’s Bandolier Bag.”
The beading on this bag is spot-stitch applique. Note the floral motif, which includes gear flowers above the pocket and flower buds on the pocket and strap. The strap features an asymmetrical design.
Ojibwe Gashkibidaagan Owned by Nathan Richardson
This particular gashkibidaagan is unusual in that we were able to track its provenance directly to a specific band, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and precise year, 1884. Within the collection, it was identified as having belonged to Nathan Richardson, who has been called the Father of Morrison County and has held more public offices than anyone else in county history.
While researching Richardson’s history for the book “A Big Hearted Paleface Man: Nathan Richardson and the History of Morrison County, Minnesota,” we ran across an article in the December 19, 1884 edition of Little Falls Transcript under local items that described the presentation of a gift from Chief Shab-osh-kung* of the Mille Lacs Band to Nathan Richardson for his assistance in getting the government to pay the band the annuities they were owed.
According to the article, “She-bosh-king*, head chief of the Mille Lacs tribe of Indians, was in town last week and gave Hon. N. Richardson a very fine piece of Indian bead work. It consisted of a large pocket or pouch, nearly a foot square, and a wide band to pass over the shoulder to support the pouch, all covered with peculiar designs in bead work. It represented a large amount of labor, and is very handsome. She-bosh-king considers Mr. Richardson a great friend, and also a particular friend of the Indians, and the present was a token of his esteem.” (Little Falls Transcript, December 19, 1884.)
The bag was donated to the Morrison County Historical Society by Richardson’s daughter, Mary (Richardson) Harker.
The front panel, strap, and fringe feature loom-woven beading, while the sections at the top of the pocket and above the pocket are done in spot-stitch applique.
Note the symmetry within the beadwork on the strap and the large X in the center of the pocket. The X was a common motif for Ojibwe loom-woven gashkibidaaganag.
This bag is shown in Marcia Anderson’s book “A Bag Worth a Pony” partially because we found documentation of its provenance in the historical record.
*Note that Chief Shab-osh-kung’s name has numerous spellings in the historic record.