Courtesy of McCord Museum of Canadian History, Montreal, Canada

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Deer Antler Headdress

This rare headdress, a gus-tow-weh (also gostoweh), is made from the whole headskin of a deer and is bordered by a band of hide decorated with quillwork. Although this example is likely late 18th century, it contains a number of traditional Iroquois elements. It features two deer antlers, which were often used on gus-tow-weh given to Iroquois peace chiefs on their installation. The feathers on this headdress come from the eagle, also a vital political symbol for the Iroquois. Two curved, white porcupine quill motifs finely worked on the front of the headdress probably represent the Great Tree of Peace in Iroquois cosmology, while the red disc may symbolize the sun. The symbolism of the headdress reinforces the enormous authority and responsibility of the wearer. The Iroquois representatives at the Great Peace negotiations in Montreal would have been the confederationís peace chiefs, authorized by their councils to negotiate for the entire confederation.

Date: circa 1775 - 1800 
Topic: Ceremonial 
Materials: hide, antler, porcupine quills, feathers
Dimensions: H: 16 in. (41 cm.)  
Accession #: M182

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