Red River Clay Ceramics

Have you ever wondered what you would ever do without your trusty cast iron frying pan or copper kettle? Just hop on over to the Red River, grab a scoop of clay, and you’re all set! Before the introduction of copper kettles, brass pots and enamel-wear pans, clay pots and jugs were created and used by Indigenous populations in North America, including those who live here in Red River North.


Red River ceramic type: Black Duck Pottery

The pottery tradition associated with the St. Andrews area is called Blackduck. This tradition was created and practiced by the Indigenous peoples who frequented the Red River, northern Minnesota and southwestern Ontario, such as the Ojibwe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dene, and Dakota peoples. The clay found in the Red River is easy to access, simple to mould, and quick to harden, so it is the ideal material for creating containers of all sizes! A well-known Blackduck pottery site is right in Lockport, and the shards and pots in the St. Andrews Heritage Centre are replicas from this dig.

Ceramics like the one pictured above are classified as coarseware, due to the mixture of flint, shells, dirt and gravel within the clay. This combination of debris makes for a harder finish of the clay, thus creating a more sturdy vessel. Unlike other pottery traditions, Blackduck vessels made of Red River clay are not porous and therefore can withstand holding water without leaching away the moisture.

Some of the notable features of Blackduck pottery are the vessels’ thin walls and surface decorations. The piece pictured here showcases surface textures on the rim and the neck of the vessel. These markings are made from techniques called “cord wrapping”, where the potter wraps a rope around the unfired clay pot and presses the texture of the rope into the wet clay. The rim of the pot is perforated. These small holes would have been punched through using a sharpened stick or stone point. The world of Indigenous pottery work is full of diversity and beauty. Other pottery traditions include decorations and impressions on the interior of the vessels, others decorate with images of stars and animals.

Pottery like this Blackduck vessel give us important clues in to the lifeways of the Indigenous peoples who lived here before European settlement. According to archeologists, finding pottery in archeological sites indicates permanent or semi-permanent settlements , indicating a shift from nomadic lifeways to being permanently located in a specific region. At the Lockport dig site, the large size of the pots indicate that the village was quite large and food storage was a primary concern for the craftspeople. Moreover, the style elements in these pieces seems to be related to people groups in Minnesota, indicating a large network of trade and travel between towns.

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