Mohawk Headdress
Article by Christina Bates

igures 1 and 2 show a headdress in the shape of a royal crown, decorated with Orange Order symbols executed in Iroquois raised beadwork. A remarkable syncretic object, its form and decoration express both Aboriginal and European ethos. The crown was found in a dilapidated state in the Folk Culture collection at the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC).

The beadwork technique is in the Haudenosaunee or eastern Iroquois tradition, and more particularly, in the Mohawk style from western Quebec and eastern Ontario. Starting in the late-nineteenth century until about 1920, Mohawk women
developed this type of ‘raised’ beadwork to make picture frames, pincushions, bags, moccasins, hats
and wall pockets to sell as souvenirs for tourists.
The crown dates to this period, most likely to the late-nineteenth century. The dense beadwork is
‘raised’ by threading more beads than the paper pattern laid on the cloth required, so that the
excess beads form an arch above the surface of the textile. The flowers and leaf forms on the two sets
of ‘arches’ that curl up from the headband are typical of this style.

The striking aspects of the crown are the
beaded figures on the headband which depict
symbols associated with the Loyal Orange Order,
including King Billy on his white horse. A
Protestant fraternal society, the Orange Order was
founded in 1795 in Ireland to commemorate the
victory of William of Orange at the battle of the
Boyne in 1690, which deposed the Catholic James
II, and restored Protestantism to the throne. Its
members professed loyalty to the Crown of
England and to the Protestant religion.
Immigrants from Ireland brought the Orange
Order to Canada; the Grand Lodge of British
North America was founded in 1830 near
Brockville, Ontario. The Orange Order, like other
fraternal organizations such as the Freemasons,
provided a social network to new male immigrants
and assistance in the event of illness or
death. The Order was a powerful force in Ontario
politics during its peak period in the late-nineteenth

The lodges adopted Masonic-type ceremonies
involving degrees of movement within the Order,
accompanied by secret passwords, handshakes and
iconography. Paper charts presenting many symbols
of the Order were hung in Orange Lodges and
members’ homes. Most of the symbols depicted
were borrowed from the Freemasons, and referenced
the Old and New Testaments.

It is likely that the beaded images on the
headband of the crown were taken from one of
these charts. The crown’s decoration is a remarkable
rendering of two-dimensional drawing on
paper in three-dimensional beadwork. Centrally
placed, we see King William of Orange on his
white horse at the battle of the Boyne, turned to
face his troops with sword in hand, flanked by the
British flag. As we follow the horse around the
headband we find crossed swords pointing to a
heart, symbolizing justice; a member of the Order
carrying the white staff of office; Jacob’s ladder of
the three theological virtues, faith, hope and
charity; the caduceus, symbol of eternal life; the
Masonic triangle of the Supreme Architect; a star
and a cock, symbol of courage; the candelabra of
the twelve apostles; an anchor, symbol of hope; a
five pointed star; and finally, the Ark of the
Covenant, constructed by Moses on God’s
command to contain the Ten Commandments.

Although the depictions were likely copied
from a chart or other printed sources, they were
also drawn from the lived experience of those
participating in Orange Lodge rituals and parades.
The conveying of the Ark of the Covenant played
a central part in Orange rituals. The figures
carrying the Ark on the crown wear characteristic
white caps with black visors and long robes that
Orangemen wore on parade and in the Lodge.

The crown appears to be unique; examples of
Iroquois beadwork on robes and sashes for fraternal
organizations exist, but no other object of this form
is known. In a creative simulation of the English
crown, the headband supports four curved ‘arches’
that converge to be topped with four smaller arches,
which perhaps represent the sovereign’s orb and
cross that surmounted royal crowns.

The beaded crown’s use within Lodge
culture is unknown. In nineteenth-century
photographs of Orange parades, the Grand Master
dressed as King Billy wore a plumed cocked hat
and the other members wore the typical peaked
caps. More likely the crown was used in the
Lodge’s secret ceremonies, donned when a
member moved to the next degree in the Order.
Otherwise it might have sat regally on a cushion
in the Lodge, as the English crown is occasionally
depicted in Orange Order charts.

Another question arises as to who used the
crown. It was purchased in 1975 from an antique
dealer who said it was from Loyal Orange Lodge
(LOL) 756, Centreville, ON, but members of the
Lodge did not recognize it when sent a photograph
in 1995. It is also possible that it was used in a First
Nations Orange Lodge, possibly the Mohawk Lodge
on the Tyendinaga Reserve, which is close to
Centreville. This reserve was granted to the
Mohawks in 1793 when they lost their territory
after the American Revolution. Most Iroquois loyal
to the British were settled by the British government
in the Grand River Valley on the north shore
of Lake Erie, and a smaller number at Tyendinaga,
on the Bay of Quinte. The Iroquois embraced many
aspects of English culture. They were Christians and
several were important members of fraternal
orders, including Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant)
who founded one of the earliest Masonic Orders in
Canada and Oronhyatekha, a leader in the Orange
Lodge and the Independent Order of Foresters.

Art history student Alisdair Macrae is
convinced that the crown is a Mohawk invention
made to create a new identity for members of a
Mohawk Orange Lodge, and an attempt to
reorient them from marginalized status to a
central position.4 Lodges were established on
several First Nations reserves, including LOL 99
that was formed in Tyendinaga in 1842. Macrae
contends that the form and decoration of the
crown is an assertion of the Mohawk belief
system, a confluence of assimilation and Native
identity. The crown has affiliation with the
gustoweh, or beaded feather Mohawk headdress,
but despite the examples he provides it is clear
that the crown relates to the Mohawk traditional
culture not so much in its form (which clearly
represents an English crown), but in its type of
decoration and its ritualistic and status functions.

This object defies categorization. It was
collected for its connection to Irish ethnicity and
the Orange Lodge, but it also belongs to Aboriginal
culture. Ruth Phillips writes in her article, “How
Museums Marginalise”: “The old forms of museum
classification reinforce outdated notions of
otherness by denying to objects made or used by
aboriginal people an historical, diachronic
positioning.”5 Phillips calls for curators to break
through the disciplinary classifications and restore
to Aboriginal objects their historical specificity,
especially objects that fall through the cracks. The
ceremonial crown, made by an Aboriginal woman
for male Anglo-Irish ethnic rituals in a rich
geographical and historical context, is one of those
needing rescue. But like the Orange Order itself, it
guards its secrets well.

Thanks to Beverly Gordon (who suggested
the title), Judy Hall, Karlis Karklins and Ruth
Phillips for sharing their expert observations on
this object.

Christina Bates is Curator, History of Canadian Home Life,
Costume and Textiles, Canadian Museum of Civilization.

1 Executed by Anna Jacobiec, CMC conservator (now
retired), in 1996.
2 Hold Onto Your Hats!, 1996-7 (http://www.civilization.
curator Christina Bates; and Layered with Meaning:
Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Beadwork Traditions, CMC,
curator Judy Hall, 2004-2009.
3 See Dolores Elliott, “Iroquois Beadwork: A
Haudenosaunee Tradition and Art,” in Preserving
Tradition and Understanding the Past: Papers from the
Conference on Iroquois Research, 2001-2005, ed. Christine
Sternberg Patrick (Albany NY: University of the
State of New York, 2010), 35-48; Beverly Gordon,
“Souvenirs of Niagara Falls: The Significance of
Indian Whimsies,” New York History 67:4 (1986),
389-409; and Ruth Phillips, Trading Identities: The
Souvenir in Native North American Art from the Northeast,
1700-1900 (Seattle: University of Washington, 1998).
4 Alisdair Macrae, “The Beaded Crown Headdress: A
Sum of European and Aboriginal Methods,” term
paper for Dr. R. Phillips, Department of History,
Carleton University, 8 February, 2010.
5 Ruth B. Phillips, “How Museums Marginalise:
Naming Domains of Inclusion and Exclusion,” The
Cambridge Review 114:2320 (Feb 1993), 7-10.

Image: Headdress, decorated in Mohawk beading depicting Orange Order symbols on the headband, Ontario,
late-nineteenth century