November is National American Indian Heritage Month, paying tribute to the rich ancestry and traditions of Native Americans. Since 1909, Pendleton has produced Indigenous blankets, robes and shawls for Indigenous tribes. Today, Pendleton is deeply connected to the Native American population.
Since the early days, care has been taken by pattern designers to learn about the traditions, mythologies and design preferences of Indigenous customers. In the earliest years, Joe Rawnsley, who was considered a gifted talent on the jacquard loom, spent time with local tribes in northeastern Oregon to understand preferences of colour and design. He would then interpret the ideas gleaned from Indigenous peoples into blanket designs using modern technologies that could express patterns in much greater detail and in more vivid colourations than could be expressed by traditional weaving methods.
Prior to the introduction of mill techniques, traditional blankets were made from hides or pelts of smaller animals which had been sewn together or woven from wool, feathers, down, bark and cotton; and, in some areas, shredded cedar bark.
Eventually the durable nature of wool blankets led to their having great value in trade – and the brighter the better. While most early trading blankets were plaids and block designs, jacquard loomed blankets with brilliant colors and sharp details became very popular within the Indigenous community and integrated into everyday and ceremonial uses.
Navajo writer and artist Rain Parrish has documented the cultural significance of these branded prized possessions in various works. “We welcome our children with a small handmade quilt or a Pendleton blanket,” writes Parrish in The Language of the Robe: American Indian Trade Blankets. “To honour [a couple’s marriage], the woman’s body is draped with a Pendleton shawl and the man’s with a Pendleton robe.”
Today, Pendleton blankets continue to play a significant role in Indigenous communities across North America. Pendleton's AICF (American Indian College Fund) blankets help fund scholarships to tribal colleges and make a difference in the lives of students throughout the country. The College Fund receives royalties for each blanket sold which goes directly to provide scholarships for deserving students.