Pauktuutit moves to support Inuit clothing business

Canada’s national Inuit women’s association has set up a committee to find ways of creating an Inuit clothing industry.


Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT – There’s a market for Inuit clothing and handicrafts, and it’s one that Pauktuutit would like to tap in to.

One shopper at the Inuit women’s association’s recent crafts fair felt she’d made a terrific bargain when she bought a doll for nearly $400.

The foot-high handmade doll, made by Elisapee Inukpuk of Inukjuak, had an expressive soapstone head. It was dressed in a miniature amautik made from skin, decorated with beadwork, then mounted on a handwoven stand of grass.

Other keen shoppers grabbed up caribou and sealskin kamiks, embroidered duffles, mittens and parkas.

An elaborate squirrel-fur coat from Kugluktuk was an eye-catcher at $1750.

Southern-based companies have already exploited the economic potential of such designs.

The fashion shows organized by Pauktuutit and other Inuit groups to boost awareness of traditional clothing have been enormously well-received, but Inuit women are still searching for ways to turn their skills and knowledge into jobs and money.

Now, thanks to some financial help from Ottawa, Pauktuutit plans to tackle the Inuit clothing market.

A committee with members across Canada will begin looking at ways of protecting traditional designs.

“We’d like to patent our clothing,” says Eva Adams, who will be coordinating the project with Pauktuutit. “So many companies in the South have stolen our designs.”

As they stand now, copyright laws consider traditional clothing designs as “folklore” that cannot be legally protected or owned.

Pauktuutit also wants to develop a way of to teach the know-how needed to make Inuit clothes.

That’s because many younger Inuit have to relearn these skills.

“My mother used to make all our clothes because there was nothing in the stores,” said Silpa Edmunds from Postville, Labrador. “But she refused to teach me how.”

Later in life, Edmunds did learn how to sew, but she said that her many grandchildren have no traditional sewing skills at all.

Edmunds thinks that a tannery for skins might be a success in Labrador because that there are so many caribou and seals along the coast. Working with Labrador Inuit will be a priority, said Adams.

Another idea could involved bringing apprentices to work with experienced sewers in Nunavut or Nunavik.

“We’ve got to focus on economic development and bring their skills up to the same level as other regions.,” she said.

Inuit women at Pauktuutit’s recent meeting were enthusiastic about promoting traditional clothing and crafts. But they didn’t always agree on how.

Madeline Redfern of Ottawa said she wouldn’t want to see mass-produced “Inuit junk” sold.

“Our culture is unique,” she said. “I think it’s better to make things that are unique.”

But Veronica Dewar from Rankin Inlet said that more volume wouldn’t have to mean less quality.

Dewar was wearing a jacket designed by her sister Mary Eecherk. Made of a silky material of deep purple, with machine-sewn appliqués, this jazzy jacket still has distictinctly Inuit flare.

For Dewar, the debate was simple. A better market for traditionally-inspired Inuit products will mean more jobs.

“We need to give opportunities to young Inuit,” she said.

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