Before Europeans took over North America, the Native Americans (or First Nation people of Canada) used precious stones, beads, and other goods for trade. These items were their currency, and it worked very well. This tradition of using and making precious items in their jewelry continues today. Here are three examples of Native American jewelry for sale, and how to identify them by their regional materials.
Paua Shell and Hawaiian Native Jewelry
Paua are large, edible sea snails. Hawaiian natives harvest and consume the snails. Because they share the native idea that all things should be used and not wasted, Native Hawaiians also use the shells for jewelry and decorative pieces. The shells of these sea snails are rich in color, ranging from striped and swirled aqua blues to deep magentas. If you visit Hawaii, you will find a lot of Native American/Hawaiian jewelry made of Paua shells.
Southwestern Natives and Silver and Turquoise Jewelry
Many native peoples of Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada have been digging up silver and turquoise to use as trade currency for centuries. It was not until they were forced to convert to European ways of life that the stones and silver they used became paper and coin money instead. The silver and turquoise still held value, but it was more appreciated as the jewelry they wore and gave as gifts. Today, you can find turquoise and silver jewelry all over the Southwest in practically every gift shop.
Northern Midwest and First Nation People and Amethyst Jewelry
Natives of Northern Wisconsin, Northern Michigan, Northern-most Minnesota, and the First Nation people of Ontario, Canada frequently used bits of amethyst in their trade dealings and jewelry-making. Everywhere you go around Lake Superior you will find roadside shops advertising the sale of amethyst. You can buy the stones in the raw and make your own jewelry, or purchase pieces made by Native Americans and First Nation peoples.
Southeastern Natives and Pearl Beads
Southeastern Natives, particularly those that lived along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, harvested seed pearls and round pearls to use as beads in their jewelry. They also used nickel, as it was a common metal found buried in these parts. Traditional jewelry made from these two elements are still available, but if you have an allergy to nickel, you can ask a native artist to use silver or gold instead to fashion something for you.
To learn more about and see Native American jewelry, check out retailers like Turquoise Skies.