Thursday, May 18, 2006

Inuit Women Learn How To Make Traditional Baby Carriers Again

Nunatsiaq News


The large-hooded amautik garment, worn by Inuit women, is unique: the parka's traditional design combines beauty as well as warmth and functionality for both mothers and babies.

But the know-how to make an amautik is also unique because it's passed on from one generation to the next.

Eager to nurture the knowledge and skills needed to produce an amautik, about 20 Nunavik women, of all ages and from many communities, recently gathered in Kangirsuk.

There, they joined other women from Kangirsuk in the community's Mirsuvik sewing centre, which was built by Makivik Corp. to support women's traditional activities.

"It was packed - you couldn't walk on the floor because you would walk on somebody's pattern," says Nancianne Gardiner-Grey.

Nancianne, who is the mother of two young children, came up with the idea of organizing a regional workshop on amautik-making when she needed an amautik for herself. The daughter of Paddy Gardiner and Roda Grey, she grew up in Kangirsuk, but was on her own two years ago when her parents moved to Ottawa and she was having her first baby.

"I was having a hard time making an amautik for myself. Of course, I really needed an amautik because I didn't have a mother or a grandmother here to help me," Nancianne says. "I was even having a hard time finding women who knew how to make amautiks. I was asking around, and no one knew. I was very surprised."

Her surprise gave way to shock when she learned from her cousin, Vicki Simigak, who now lives in Nuuk, that women in Greenland don't wear amautiit - but push their children along in Danish-style carriages when they're outside.

"That's going to happen here if people keep doing what they're doing, which is not knowing how to make amautiks," Nancianne says.

So, she proposed a regional workshop on amautik-making to the Canada Council for the Arts, and then to regional organizations, such as the health board and Makivik Corp., and businesses. Her idea grew to a $30,000 weekend-long workshop.

"It sort of became bigger than I expected," Nancianne says.

Expert sewers, young and old, were among the women who signed up for the workshop.

"But some others had never touched a sewing machine in their lives and they made an amautik. It was incredible," Nancianne says.

Elders Leah Kudluk of Kangirsuk, Eva Illimasaut of Kangiqsujuaq, and Kaudjak Tarkirk of Salluit were on hand to discuss their traditional knowledge on the amautik. They spoke about what it was like carrying a baby on a dog team and how they would change their babies' diapers and nurse them, without taking them out of the amautik; they discussed taboos related to pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood; and, they debated over what is the proper way to make an amautik and the differences between Hudson Bay and Ungava Bay designs.

"We even got into the details about what colours to use if you have a boy or a girl. Kaudjak Tarkirk said the amautik should only be black or blue for a boy. If you use red or yellow or other bright colours on the amautik, it's bad luck, and the boy won't grow up to be a brave hunter," Nancianne says.

While some of the participants worked on amautiit with an outside cover in beige, mustard-yellow, green or blue, white is still the colour of choice.

For Maaki Putulik, the best part of the recent amautik workshop in Kangirsuk was seeing women work together, openly sharing skills and knowledge "and being cool about it."

"It used to be the only fabric that came up North. So, it's become the colour for the silapaks [outside cover] on the amautiks, but the elders said it's up to the maker of the amautik. They understand that things are changing and people want to be more modern," Nancianne says.

The workshop participants also spoke about the beaded designs, which were traditionally sewn on to amautiit.

Most of the 10 amautiit made during the workshop were long ones.

Betsy Weetalutuk was the first person to finish an amautik in the workshop, with the help of instructor Dora Oweetaluktuk of Inukjuak. Alacie Lucassie and Raina Niviaxie, young women who never sewed before, persevered and finished an amautik with the help of instructor Anna Ohaituk of Inukjuak. Louisa Whitely-Tukkiapik finished a girl's amautik; Minnie Nappatuk kept on sewing even after the workshop finished, and finished her amautik, with the help of instructor Lizzie Putulik of Kangirsuk, working into the late hours of the night before she went home.

But not everyone finished their projects.

"We were all so new and it takes time. You can't really finish an amautik in three days especially if you are a beginner," Nancianne says.

The patterns for amautiit are complicated, Nancianne learned, because certain parts of the pattern play a big role in the comfort, fit and shape.

"These patterns go back a long time. There was a lady with a pattern that went back to the 1940s made of cloth," Nancianne says.

Working in pairs, along with an instructor, workshop participants learned how to customize the amautik pattern to their bodies, to measure the chest from shoulder to shoulder with a thumb and index finger, to use the knuckles for extra measuring, and to determine the length of the akuq [the tail] of the amautik, according to a woman's height.

At the workshop, the women also made a sheepskin amautik and another one of sealskin, but many were surprised to learn that it's possible to make a basic amautik for about $100 - the cost of several metres of cloth.

Maaki Putulik, the mother of a baby boy, helped organize the workshop. Maaki's mother, Lizzie, a skilled sewer, was also one of the instructors.

For Maaki, the best part of the workshop was seeing women work together, openly sharing skills and knowledge "and being cool about it."

"It was a happy atmosphere for a lot of women," she says.

During the workshop, Nancianne and Maaki took photos and conducted interviews with the elders. These will be given to Nunavik's Avataq Cultural Institute for safekeeping.

"We're not really interested in commercializing this because we're very concerned about intellectual property," Maaki says. "The qajak [kayak] was commercialized, and it slipped out of our hands."

For traditional artwork, see Inuit Art at Free Spirit Gallery

4 comments: said...

where can i find this pattern i bought a baby carrier while in Clyde River Nunivut ( cant spell sorry ) and i liked the coat but not the colour and i want to change the fabric on the jacket can i do that ??

Clint said...

Your best bet is to contact some Inuit organizations like the coops and see if they can set you up with some of the ladies who make them. I doubt that they can supply patterns since it's not really an industry but I'm sure that they can make a new one for you.

Clint - Free Spirit Gallery

Anonymous said...

I recently moved to Nain and am looking to purchase a winter Amauti, I can't seem to find anyone who makes them, was wondering if yo could push me in the right direction- an email or phone number?

Meegan Lovett

Inukarama said...

I am very interested in amautiks and I would love to see pictures of the amautiks that were made. Do you know if there are any pictures of the amautiks that were made at that conference?