still a custom we value very much"
Mittimatalik Arnait Muqsuqtuit Collective show off their skills
at National Boutique in St. Johns Oct. 8 during the
Inuit Blanche arts festival. (photo courtesy of MAMC)
Katsak shows off a cleaned sealskin to a participant at the
Inuit Studies Conference Oct. 10. (photo by SARAH ROGERS)
ST. JOHNSWhen Regilee Ootova was a child, she remembers
watching her mother preparing to bleach seal skin.
It looked like a frantic activity: she would place the seal
skin in boiling water, twirling carefully, and anxiously chanting
Aina, aina to herself.
Years later, Ootova realized that anxiety was her mothers
way of ensuring the seal skin didnt overcook, so it was in
good condition to be sewn into clothing.
Today, the Pond Inlet seamstress and culture teacher wants to
make sure the same skills she learned from her own mother transfer
to a younger generation of seamstresses in the Baffin community.
Today, were still practicing, Ootova tells
an audience at the Inuit Studies Conference Oct. 10, hosted in St.
Johns, NL. But our elders and teachers arent as
strong as they were. We have to do the physical work for them.
Ootova is one of 15 women in Pond Inlet who make up the Mittimatalik
Arnait Muqsuqtuit Collective, a group of local seamstresses dedicated
to sharing their knowledge on traditional sealskin preparation.
The group has prepared extensive video footage and masters classes,
instructional videos on seal skin preparation and sewing available
online in English and Inuktitut, funded by Mobilizing Inuit Cultural
One video shows Ootova and her sister Sarahme Akoomalik seated
outside scraping the fatty remains from a seal skin with an ulu
In another video, the sisters stand outdoors in the melting
snow of June, showing viewers how to tie seal skins to wooden frames
The videos arent meant to be an exhaustive resource for
people who are new to skin processing and sewing, but rather to
serve as a starting point.
Collective member Sheila Katsak said the videos are designed
to encourage young sewers to take an interest in a project, and
then engage elders to help them complete the work.
Its a good reference tool for the younger generation,
Katsaks own 16-year-old daughter is featured in one video
learning to make a pair of kamiks. Following the shoot, the teen
took her work to her own grandmother to help finish them.
Katsak said the collective wasnt trying to remedy a lack
of skills in sealskin preparation or sewing, but a lack of opportunity
to communicate those skills.
We all work all the time and theres not always time
to learn, she said.
The Mittimatalik Arnait Muqsuqtuit Collective has been equally
busy in St. Johns this week, hosting a sealskin skills open
house as part of The INuit Blanche arts festival Oct. 8, and sharing
their work with conference goers.
Theyve been bombarded with questions, Katsak said. Are
there enough seals? Does it smell? How do you make patterns in sealskin?
One participant, a Rigolet man who has lived most of his life
in St. Johns, had a number of questions for the woman Oct.
10 about how they practice their craft.
Most of the Inuit in Nunatsiavut have lost those skills, he
said, but he hangs onto fond memories of the first seal he killed
in his twenties, and the sealskin mitts his aunt fashioned for him.
Its still a custom we value very much, Ootova
You can learn more about the collective and watch some of its
master classes here.
Master Class 3 from Mittimatalik Arnait Miqsuqtuit on Vimeo.