Making traditional Inuit clothing…

clothingg01.jpg Local dogteamer Meeka Mike invited Elizabeth and Marie, the wife of expedition member Luki Airut, to join her at her house to sew caribou fur pants. Meeka will wear the caribou fur pants on her upcoming trip to Kimmirut, the village to the south of Iqaluit. Meeka explained to Elizabeth that caribou fur is hollow so it traps air and acts as a good insulator. In addition to clothing, Inuit people use caribou skins for sleeping mats while out on the land. Meeka explained that this “Inuit technology” was a forerunner to Thermarest inflatable camping mattresses, which also use trapped air for insulation from the cold ground. The caribou skin Meeka is sewing is from the first caribou hunted by her twelve-year-old niece.

Meeka learned from her mother to sew skin mitts and socks. Her mother passed away before Meeka had a chance to learn how to sew fur parkas. This skill is difficult to learn, but luckily Meeka was able to learn from her aunt.

clothingg02.jpgMarie is an expert maker of fur clothing. Marie lives with Luki and their children in a caribou hunting outpost camp. They use the caribou hides to outfit their large family with warm clothing. They tan all the caribou hides in the traditional way using only scrapers and water. Skins tanned in this way need to be kept cool or they will begin to fall apart.

As the women sewed, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation ran a story on the radio about ice conditions around Baffin being the worst in history. The story reported that the ice in Baffin Bay formed two weeks later and is more thin and soft than normal. Scientists are expecting that unless the weather turns abnormally cold, the ice will go out earlier than normal. The ice is especially poor in Cumberland Sound, the large body of sea water the expedition team must cross to get to the next village, Pangnirtung. The radio story reported that seal pups have been falling through the ice and that conditions are not safe for hunters to travel over the ice.

Meeka’s sister Becky told Elizabeth that the normal winter prevailing winds are from the north. In the past ten years, however, more wind has been blowing out of the south. This wind blows the pack ice north and further reduces the amount of sea ice around the southern part of Baffin Island.

In 2000 these unexpected southerly winds blew an ice drift out to sea stranding over fifty Inuit hunters from the community of Arctic Bay (on northern Baffin Island). The hunters had to be rescued by helicopter and lost most of their gear. Becky said that traditionally clouds came before the wind, but now the wind comes before the clouds, so the people do not have a warning about upcoming wind.

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