Collections from Minnesota National Parks

National Park Service, Centennial One Object Exhibit

In celebration of the National Park Service Centennial in 2016, this exhibit showcases one object from every national park museum collection in Minnesota. We invite you to explore museum collections from Grand Portage National Monument, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, Pipestone National Monument, and Voyageurs National Park.

Our understanding of historic Grand Portage as a centralized fur trade emporium is intimately tied to the archeological record. Excavations since the 1930s have recovered over 87,000 archeological objects within the park. This striking piece of trade silver, excavated in Grand Portage in 2003, helps tell a significant story of the cross-cultural encounters and exchange between American Indians and European Americans.

Before contact with Europeans, Indians all over the Americas wore shell jewelry. In fabricating pieces such as this, European silversmiths adopted an Indian design for a curved disc similar to a large conch shell. These silver substitutes based on older jewelry designs became vital trade items in negotiations with Native customers. Jewelry was often considered to be more than simple adornment, as the material, shape or design, and even the sound that it produces, could have spiritual connotation.

The maker’s mark “NR” at the top of the pendant, or moon gorget, indicates that this object was produced in Montreal by silversmith Narcisse Roy between 1787 and 1814. This piece made its way to Grand Portage packed in a 36-foot long birchbark canoe powered by the paddling strokes of French-Canadian voyageurs along a 1,500-mile route that included 36 portages. The pendant’s intended destination will remain a mystery, whether as a gift for the Grand Portage Ojibwe or for trade with tribes further west. This object provides a tangible link to the past when the world traveled to, and through, Grand Portage.

Grand Portage National Monument, GRPO 16948

The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area represents the confluence of ancient cultural traditions and modern transportation. The Mississippi River served as a significant means of conveying goods and people for thousands of years, and by the mid-1800s this popularity drew the railroad to the river's banks. While the railroad and the automobile quickly diminished the historical reliance on waterways for transportation, this railroad spike found in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area corridor reminds us of the river's role in shaping our nation.

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, MISS 407

This traditional T-style catlinite pipe with the associated ash wood stem is representative of the types of historic and ethnographic pipes that were/are carved by American Plains Indians throughout the Midwest Region as well as in parts of Canada. Catlinite is the name of the stone that is derived from the quarries of what is now Pipestone National Monument. In general, pipes are considered sacred objects and thus the stem should never be connected to the bow unless used for smoking in ceremony or prayer. Used in such settings, smoke emitted from the pipe represents the prayers offered up to the “Creator.” For most Plains Indian tribes, the pipe is considered the most important form of material culture.

Pipestone National Monument, PIPE 888

William Hafeman was a northern Minnesota homesteader who learned the craft of birchbark canoe building from his Ojibwe neighbors. He was commissioned to build this 26' canoe in the fashion of a voyageur "North canoe" or canut du nord by the National Geographic Society for the park established along a route of the fur trade - Voyageurs National Park. Using the traditional materials of large sheets of birchbark for the hull, cedar for the ribs, and spruce root and sap to sew and seal the seams, Mr. Hafeman created a replica of the watercraft that was the only practical vehicle to conduct the fur trade in a rugged frontier. This lightweight canoe was easily carried over portages, yet could hold three tons in cargo. In the heyday of the fur trade, the area that is now the park was a canoe-building center due to the abundance of birchbark.

Voyageurs National Park, VOYA 3

Credits: Story

Park museum staff from: Grand Portage National Monument, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, Pipestone National Monument, and Voyageurs National Park.

National Park Service, Museum Management Program Staff: Amber Dumler, Stephen Damm, Ron Wilson, and Joan Bacharach

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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