Warriors of the Plains:
200 years of Native North American honour and ritual

7 January – 5 April 2010

Exhibition closed

Room 91

Supported by
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An introduction to the exhibition Warriors of the Plains.

A rare opportunity to explore the fascinating world of Native North American warfare and ritual.

The exhibition focuses on the material culture of Native North American Indians of the Plains between 1800 and the present, and the importance of the objects in a social and ceremonial context.

Men of these tribes were expected to join a ‘warrior society’ – a social, political and ritual group that engaged in warfare and organised ceremonial life.

The societies played a prominent role in battles, offering members the opportunity to gain honours through individual acts of bravery such stealing horses, capturing women, and taking scalps during war raids. These societies, however, had a rich ritual life that was marked by a strong sense of spirituality. In their ceremonies society members made use of objects such as pipes, rattles and headdresses, as these were significant to their shared ideas of ritual and honour.

The exhibition explores the world of the Plains Indians through exceptional examples of feather headdresses, shields, moccasins, painted hides, scalps, pipes, tomahawks, and traditional and contemporary dress. Although many of these items may seem initially familiar from popular culture, the exhibition uncovers the deeper ritual significance of these iconic objects.

A selection of photographs shows past and present contexts of the objects used in these societies. The legacy of the warrior societies is also examined, revealing how crucial they are in the maintenance of tribal identity among Plains Indians today.

Returning the Gaze
  • 1

    Returning the Gaze. Assiniboine dancer Kevin Haywahe with face paint, 2005. © Jeff Thomas.

  • 2

    Blackfoot warrior society headdress, ermine tails and split horns, late 19th–early 20th century. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

  • 3

    Ledger drawing made by Tall Bear (Oglala Sioux), 1874. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

  • 4

    Buckskin shirt and leggings decorated with dyed porcupine quills, 19th century. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

  • 5

    Human scalp stretched on wooden hoop wrapped with woven porcupine quills, early 18th century. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Returning the Gaze. Assiniboine dancer Kevin Haywahe with face paint, 2005. © Jeff Thomas.