There are winter boots at the store that can be purchased and worn home, and then there are sealskin kamiit crafted by hand.
Five Iglulik residents have opted to go the latter route and started making their own boots on July 5. They gather at the community hall one evening per week for about four to five hours to advance their projects. They expect to be done after seven weeks, somewhere around mid-August.
“We are doing everything from the first step, how elders make kamiik,” says workshop participant Beatrice Uttak. “It’s hard at first. You feel clumsy, but it’s not that hard to learn.”
The women started by skinning seals and fleshing the sealskins. The ringed seal, a familiar grey/brown with black dots, is used to make the upper portion of the boots while the bearded seal – possessing a more rigid and durable hide – forms the sole. To make the bearded sealskin more pliable, it has to be chewed, and chewed, and chewed some more.
“I had to stretch it through my teeth,” workshop participant Daisy Qamukaq says. “It’s very tough.”
The sealskins are stored in a freezer between classes so they don’t dry out.
The workshop, taking place under the tutelage of Susan Avinga, attracted so much interest that 60 people applied and a draw had to be held to determine the five students, says Jose Quezada, Iglulik’s recreation director.
Qamukaq was one of the lucky few.
“It’s my first time making kamiik, so I was very interested to learn,” Qamukaq says. “I find it very good, lots of fun… She (Avinga) is instructing in Inuktitut and we’re learning pretty well.”
Because this is the first pair of kamiik made by her own hands, Qamukaq, 27, is keeping these ones for herself. However, she anticipates making more in the future.
“I plan to make kamiik for my husband and my kids,” she says.