The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Beauty, Honor, and Tradition: The Legacy of Plains Indian Shirts, February 22 - May 16, 2004

Power in Animals

Indian people believe animals possess special powers that, in turn, can give humans unusual talents and insights. By making representations of them, Plains Indians maintained this connection to the animal world while gaining some of the creatures’ strengths and characteristics.
When clothed in a shirt with animal references, the wearer carries that animal’s power with him. Individuals have long sought spiritual guidance from animals through fasting or other ceremonial practices, and shirts invoking animal power bestowed those attributes on warriors during battle.
Among many tribes, for example, bears—known for their brute strength and ferocity—have a potent force that could be transferred to a man through a visionary experience or direct contact in battle. Likewise, spiders held power over their enemies through shrewd entrapment and quick strike, qualities a human warrior needed as well.

George P. Horse Capture "In an earlier time, our relatives—the animals—had power and could talk and communicate with us. Later, when we could no longer hear them, they still retained their special abilities."
-George P. Horse Capture (A’aninin)

Tsethasetas (Southern Cheyenne)
Shirt (back), about 1875
Tsethasetas (Northern Cheyenne)
Shirt (back), about 1855-1865