I found this handmade, hand decorated parka at the Salvation Army last weekend. It needs some TLC (some moth holes need patching and the fox fur trim has come loose in some places. But fixing it up will be well worth the effort.
Because it’s from a thrift shop, I don’t know its provenance but these jackets were commonly made by sewing collectives in the Arctic in the 1970s and 1980s. My parents bought one from Labrador for my nephew when he was a babe probably around 1986 (aka the year my family all went to Newfoundland without me).
Inuit women would use appliqué on old blankets to create images that reflected traditional themes. This coat has a hunter catching a fish on the front and a dog team pulling a qamutiik on the back.
These cooperatives began as a response to the federal government wanting to centralize the Inuit in order to make delivering education, healthcare and other services easier. This of course led to people losing access to traditional sources of food and trade. So the feds set up cooperatives to pool food and resources but also as places where Inuit could also produce arts and crafts like stone carving, printmaking and sewing to sell to southerners.
In the early days of these endeavours, the government tried to encourage a pan-Arctic style (traditionally each Inuit community had very distinct styles of making clothing and decorating it). This makes it difficult to pinpoint what part of the Arctic this jacket might have originated from, let alone the name of the person who made it. On top of that, certain non-Inuit companies sold patterns to make this style of garment.
Since these early days, Co-ops have become the largest non-government employers of Indigenous people as well as an important social movement in the far North. And they are all Inuit-owned now.
At any rate, you can tell this piece was made by somebody’s hands, and I’d like to honour that work by bringing it back to life.