Keywords: Copper Inuit clothing copper inuit footware COPPER INUIT regional overview copper inuit historical clothing copper inuit comtemporary clothing clothes kamiks Kamiks western-most Canadian Inuit Coppermine Cambridge Bay Holman Northwest Territories Coronation Gulf Bathurst Inlet Contwoyto Lake Victoria Island territory of Copper Inuit
Copper Inuit, the western-most Canadian Inuit, reside mainly in the centralized communities of Coppermine, Cambridge Bay, and Holman in the Northwest Territories.
Several families also live in outpost camps along Coronation Gulf, Bathurst Inlet, Contwoyto Lake, and on Victoria Island.
Inuit Mother and Child
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The territory of Copper Inuit is largely tundra, but there are forested areas on the south and southwestern margins of their range along the Coppermine River and Great Bear Lake.
Rocky hills and outcrops, tundra ponds, large lakes, and major rivers (the Coppermine, Richardson, and Rae) dominate the landscape.
The bodies of fresh water sustain large populations of arctic char, lake trout, whitefish, and grayling.
The tundra and nearby forest tundra provide habitats for large numbers of arctic ground squirrel, barren ground caribou, Peary’s caribou, muskox, grizzly bear, wolverine, wolf, moose, muskrat, mink, and arctic hare.
The marine waters do not have such a diversity of wildlife but do support large numbers of ringed seal, bearded seal and codfish.
When the Stefansson-Anderson expedition travelled to Coronation Gulf in 1914-18, Copper Inuit wore short-waisted parkas with long narrow back tails (Stefansson 1914) and sleeves that barely extended to the wrist, leaving some skin exposed.
For additional protection against severe winter weather, they put on heavy over parkas.
Women’s parkas had exaggerated, pointed shoulders, and elongated hoods, and their boots had tall leg sections that buttoned to a waistline thong (Vancouver Museum AB173a and b) (Stefansson 1914; Jenness 1922, 1923, 1946).
Boots sometimes had soles of feathers or bird skins (Jenness 1946). Detailed descriptions of historical Copper Inuit clothing are included in Stefansson (1914) and Jenness (1946).
A dramatic style change occured between 1916 and 1918, when Captain Klengenberg moved into the area with his Alaskan wife, Kemnik, and their family (Jenness 1923, Webster 1949, Oakes 1991a) to establish trading posts.
The Alaskan clothing styles of the Klengenbergs were adopted by Copper Inuit, and the elaborately decorated, knee to mid-calf length parka remains popular today.
A variety of skin fashions exist within Copper Inuit communities today (Oakes 1992b, 1994). For example, on Victoria Island, dog skins are used for clothing, particularly for boots.
On the mainland, wolf leg skins are used, while dog skins are rarely used. Chemically tanned wild mink, arctic hare, rabbit, and cowhides, which are readily available from the Winnipeg Fur Exchange as well as from Northern and Co-op stores, are made into stylish inner or outer parkas for festivals and community events.
In additon, commercially tanned ringed seal and short-sheared sheepskin are used for inner and outer boots, stockings, and slippers.
One-of-a-kind items are made from both home-scraped and commercially tanned skins: skunk mitts, beaver mitts, otter parkas, polar bear mitts, and polar bear outer boots.
Today, a wide variety of winter fabrics and imitation furs are available. Imitation mink, rabbit, and cowhide, as well as brightly coloured fake fur, are made into parkas.
Historical patterns are adjusted to incorperate zippers, pockets, new fabrics, and new hemlines.
For their footwear, Copper Inuit use skins from seal, caribou, wolverine, wolf, and other animals that live along the treeline and coast.
They make a wide variety of kamiks, the most notable feature being a stiff, boatlike Alaskan-style pleated preformed sole or a flat sole. Pleated soles are made from bleached or shaved bearded or ringed seal skin.
Kamiks with flat soles are commonly worn around town and on long hunts.
Soles of shaved or aged ringed or bearded seal skin are too stiff for winter use and are preferred for spring boots.
Winter kamiks usually have soles and vamps cut from commercially smoked moosehide or haired caribou bull skin (the hair is worn to the inside), vinyl, depilated caribou, or shaved caribou bull skin.
The smoked moosehide and caribou are brought from commercial outlets or processed at home.
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One seamstress from Coppermine visited the Dene in Rae Edzo to learn the smoke-tanning process (Klengenberg 1985), and in the early 1970s, Dene women were brought into Coppermine to teach Inuit their moose-tanning process (Elias 1992).
Pleated and flat soles are used with two types of vamps. One vamp is cut with a vamp-leg seam that ends in a sharp point at the centre front; this seam extends up to the ankle area.
The second vamp type, which has a center front panel that extends up to the top of the boot, is usually used when the leg section is cut from leg skins or stroud.
From the 1930s to the 1950s, men wore a kamik with a vamp that encircled the foot and with a center back seam at the heel (Joss Collection 1928-50).
The upper section consisted of dark and light colored vertical panels of stroud. This style (similar to Type 3Ae in Webber 1989) is not commonly made today (Oakes 1991a).
Leg sections are stovepipe shaped, and boot heights vary from mid-shin to just below the knee.
Canvas, stroud, vinyl, and other fabrics, as well as haired ringed seal skin, sheepskin and the leg skins of caribou, wolf, and dog, are used for leg sections.
Caribou leg skin boots are decorated with purchased trim, a broad band of fabric, or cut-out seal skin.
The height and coloration varies depending on the availability of Peary’s caribou leg skins and personal preferences.
Ankle straps are a common feature on Copper Inuit kamiks. They are sewn directly to each side near the back of the heel or are threaded through a system of loops sewn to the boot.
In the past, footwear was also used for other purposes. For example, a single kamik was used as a bag to hold the bones and sinew or rope needed to play a traditional bone game.
This game is played in a variety of ways.
One method is to tie a noose at one end of the length of sinew or rope. All the bones are placed inside the boot and the drawstring is pulled as tight as possible.
The player slips the noose inside the boot and attempts to snare a bone. When it feels like there might be a bone in the noose, the player pulls the noose tight and carefully draws it out through the small opening at the top of the boot.