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Quilling on video

Gwich'in art brought to the present

Malcolm Gorrill
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Jan 22/01) - Seventy years ago, porcupine quilling faded among the Gwich'in.

Thanks to the Traditional Gwich'in Clothing Project, the art is being revived.

"We're bringing it back. I think it's important, and it will help people feel proud of their heritage," says project co-ordinator Karen Wright-Fraser.

Wright-Fraser has been holding porcupine quill workshops in Inuvik, Fort McPherson, Tsiigehtchic and Aklavik.

The Traditional Gwich'in Clothing Project involves the re-creation of a 19th century Gwich'in outfit.

The original outfit is housed at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.

"We brought a delegation down to look at the outfits in the museums. We travelled to Ottawa and then to Washington and back. We brought some Gwich'in elder seamstresses," Wright-Fraser explains.

One outfit each is being made in Inuvik, Fort McPherson, Tsiigehtchic and Aklavik, as well as at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife.

Wright-Fraser says the outfits are ready to be decorated with porcupine quills, hence one purpose for holding these workshops. She points out, however, that the workshops would also be useful simply in reviving interest in skill in the art of porcupine quilling.

Ingrid Kritsch, research director for the Gwich'in Social and Cultural Institute in Yellowknife, says that all the replicas are expected to be completed in March. This summer a ceremony will be held to present the outfits to the four communities.

Kritsch adds that Dennis Allen is filming material for a documentary on the entire Gwich'in Traditional Clothing Project.

"He's been videotaping the seamstresses while they're working, and interviewing elders and the people in the community about their knowledge about the clothing, and about tanning and how it's all put together," she says.

Kritsch says people are very excited about the clothing project.