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Miami share their ribbonwork at historic home

July 8, 2018 GMT

Although there wasn’t a large crowd for Saturday’s Miami Ribbonwork workshop, those who attended spent their time diligently cutting strips of paper to emulate the Native American tribe’s traditional diamond-pattern ribbonwork. 

“We used diamond patterns long before we ever saw ribbons. You’ll see pictures of people with tattoos where you can see the diamond patterns and in woven things,” said Diane Hunter, a Miami tribe member leading Saturday’s workshop. “They learned how to fold and cut and sew together the ribbons into diamond patterns.”

Saturday’s workshop was part of Miami Heritage Days, which saw more than 30 visitors sign up for tours at the Chief Richardville House on Bluffton Road in Fort Wayne. Richardville was the last civil chief of the Miami tribe and was regarded at the time of his death in 1840 as the richest man in Indiana.

Most of the Great Lakes tribes had their own ribbonwork, each featuring distinctive designs, Hunter said. The Miami incorporated their traditional diamond pattern onto the new material when it became available in the late 18th century. The designs were sewed onto clothing meant for special occasions, not everyday wear, Hunter said.

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The ribbonwork craft was eventually lost to the ravages of time in the early 20th century. That is, until a revival in the 1990s that occurred alongside rediscovery of the Miami language. Now, Hunter said Miami diamond designs can be found on clothing and other items such as smartphone cases. 

“Generally, we still sew them by hand,” Hunter said. “Some of us use a machine, but most still do it by hand.” 

Saturday’s paper workshop allowed visitors to understand how the material was layered to create the diamond pattern, Hunter said, but without the time-consuming hassle of actually sewing. 

Ribbonwork’s revival is part of the Miami’s cultural and mystic revitalization that has occurred over the past 20 to 30 years, Hunter said. 

“It enables us to participate more in our culture in ways that, for a while, was just not possible,” she said.

dgong@jg.net