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A sunburst in winter

Philippe Morin
Northern News Services
Published Monday, October 29, 2007

TUKTOYAKTUK - Traditional 'sunburst' coats are perhaps the most famous icon of Northern aboriginal culture.

They are recognized around the world and serve as great insulation against the cold.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

A smiling Sarah Meyook displays a traditional amaruq collar at Aklavik's Mad Trapper Jamboree in March 2007. People in Tuktoyaktuk will soon be learning to make the coats, thanks to elders in the community. - NNSL file photo

But there is a problem.

"Only a few of the elders know how to make the sunburst," said Leena Kotokak of Tuktoyaktuk, who assists new coordinator Elizabeth Gruben in the community's Brighter Futures Program.

"People are losing part of that sewing tradition, and there's only a few elders in the community who know how to put an amaruq together."

Traditional course

In an effort to preserve the amaruq collar - which means literally "wolf" in Inuvialuktun --- a respected group of elders in Tuktoyaktuk are teaching residents to sew.

Jean Gruben was scheduled to start a class on Oct. 29, alongside Emma Raddi, Alice Felix and Eva Raddi at the community's Catholic rectory.

Before the course started, Gruben said she was hoping for a small but dedicated group of students.

"I'm hoping to have five or six young women who will really put their heart into it," she said.

"Hopefully they learn others how to make it, because we are losing that tradition."

Cathy Cockney of Inuvik's Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre said the coats have a long history with Northern women.

She said amaruq collars traditionally use wolf because the hair darkens towards the end.

"It's the texture. The wolf fur is very long and they like the dark tip," she said.

"There is also one strip of wolverine around the face because it's dark, just to give it contrast," she explained.

Interestingly enough, Cockney added that amaruq coats used to be smaller in generations past.

She said the ICRC has many archival photographs of women wearing the coats in Aklavik in the 1950s and beyond.

In those cases, the sunburst fringe was often shorter than what is seen today.

"I think it's because we have more to sew with," she said.