Native American


Artist: Unknown
Culture/People: Tanana
Place: Alaska, United States
Media: Caribou hide, and ceramic and glass beads
Dims: 7.5 x 26 in. (19 x 66 cm).
Date: c. 1880-1900
RTC No: NA0692
Gift of Ralph T. Coe, 2011


This quiver, designed to hold arrows and perhaps a bow, can be worn across the back. The quiver body has two red ochre caribou figures above an edging of mountains along the bottom seam. Tanana denote their territories using hills and mountains. The placing of caribou on a quiver of arrows intended for hunting caribou is a deep and profound invocation for a successful hunt. The beads were all traded into the Alaskan interior, made on the other side of the world. Use of beads replaced porcupine quillwork; beads were becoming more widely available toward the nineteenth century’s last two decades.

The Coe collection quiver is unique because the opening to insert or withdraw the arrows is on the right end and not on the left. This is the case with all of the other extant Tanana Athapascan quivers and other quivers made in this style throughout the Alaskan interior and some locations along the coasts. We naturally think, “well, perhaps its original owner was left-handed.” This is a logical first reaction; however, they rarely change work direction and patterns to adapt to handedness with traditional cultural arts.

Life was centered on the Caribou. Caribou hunting during the fall migration involved the use of fences, corrals, and snare complexes and was a seasonal activity critical to the survival of the Tanana people. Today, most caribou meat is typically used fresh or frozen for later use. The hides, hooves, antlers, and bones provided tools, as well as clothing, shelters, cords, and lashings.

It is difficult to assign a single group to the quiver’s manufacture and use. The Tanana are from a large area of Alaska’s interior, sometimes referred to as Central Alaskan Athabascans. Prior to the twentieth century, interior Alaskan Native peoples had no broad tribal identity but

rather organized themselves in small groups that were sometimes aligned through marriage. Smaller groups provided better means for following seasonal rounds and resource procurement. The name Tanana was once only applied primarily to the people living along the Tanana River drainage, an area of about 12,000 square miles. Today it is applied to five river drainage and an area of almost 250,000 square miles. Following the 1970s Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, a Tanana Chiefs Council was created. The name has come to represent most Native people living in the interior of what is now the state of Alaska.

The quiver was acquired from a Native arts dealer who suggested it is a deaccessioned museum object, although the quiver has no markings to indicate that it was once cared for by a museum. See artist Melissa Shaginoff speak about this piece on Collections Spotlight.

There is a second quiver from the same area in the Coe collection, see here NA1091.

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