Cattails are familiar plants all across North America. Found growing in wet ditches and marshlands, this indigenous plant is easily recognized by its brown sausage-shaped seed head. There are two varieties of cattails, the tall Typha latifolia and the smaller Typha angustfolia. While both occur in Nova Scotia, the taller plant is more common
In times past, the aboriginal people of North America relied on their environment for their survival: plants and animals provided their food, their housing, and their clothing. One example of their resourcefulness was their use of the long, wide cattail leaves to make matting. Hundreds of leaves were bound together alternating the thick and thin ends of each leaf so that they hung vertically like a curtain. The leaves were then sewn with plant cordage at horizontal intervals down their length, and on either side of the mat, trapping an insulating pocket of air between the two layers of stitching. These mats were used for a variety of purposes-insulation from the cold winter ground, padding while kneeling in canoes, and protection from the weather as rain-repelling, wind-breaking and light-filtering walls in their summer homes.
The Nova Scotian Pictou site BkCp-1, dated 1570-1590, contains several fragments of sewn cattail matting. This is very exciting as it is the only site in eastern Canada yet to have revealed the use of this technique by its aboriginal peoples.
This report is one in a series examining the woven plant textiles found at Pictou. As we have no information-oral, written or pictorial-on Mi'kmaq sewn-cattail matting prior to the finding of the Pictou site, a review of the literature concerning the making of sewn mats by other North American aboriginal peoples is provided, followed by an examination of artifacts found at BkCp-1 and an analysis of the techniques used by the Mi'kmaq people in the creation of this matting at the end of the sixteenth century.
51 page book
Nova Scotia Department of Education and Culture