Interpretation by Liz Ellis
This robe offers a glimpse of an exchange between Illinois people and European newcomers. The hide would have served as a reminder of the messages that Peorias and Miamis brought to this interaction. For Illinois people, trade was not simply a matter of economic exchange, but rather an opportunity to build political alliances and to share their history and cultural knowledge. During trade gatherings, Native people usually spoke at length with their visitors, and these talks would have helped French settlers understand the political and spiritual power of the Illinois confederacy. They might have told stories about the people’s relationships to Ciinkwia (Thunderbird) and the other powerful beings that inhabited their homelands in present day Illinois and Indiana, or about their communities’ accomplishments and history. The men and women who procured, processed, and painted, and traded or gifted the hide, may also have told the recipients about the lines, circles, and Thunderer symbols that adorn the piece. Through the images recorded on the robe and the stories that accompanied it, these men and women would have shaped the perception of the powerful Illinois confederacy as the hide traveled across North American and Europe with these accounts of their people.