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No limits to Clyde River woman's skills

The interior of a goose foot basket – the skin of the goose feet and seal skin are stitched together. Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

When Igah Hainnu attended the Nunavut Arts Festival in Iqaluit in early July, she was there to teach how to make goose foot baskets.

Igah Hainnu of Clyde River demonstrates how to skin the feet of a bird to make a goose foot basket at a workshop during the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association's festival in Iqaluit July 8. Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

The two workshops were full.

"The ladies who participated loved doing (the baskets), they enjoyed it," said Hainnu.

The baskets are constructed from the skin of six bird's feet – Canada geese, snow geese or ducks. The small skins, with claws intact, are then sewn together with seal skin. The finished basket is coated to make it last longer.

The baskets are an adaptation of a traditional bag she was taught to make by her grandmother.

"She had little wooden dolls in that little bag. She told me they used to be used for cotton willow for wick for their oil lamp, the qulliq. They didn't have bags, so this is what they used, with a strap. And I admired it, so she showed me how to skin the feet," said Hainnu. "She used a bone from the wing, the bird wing from the same bird we got the feet from. It was time consuming, so I do it modernly now."

At the workshop Hainnu used an X-Acto knife and scissors.

Hainnu's grandmother would explain about other little bags used long ago.

"Any little bags they could make, like fish skin, or anything from an animal," said Hainnu, adding they were used for storage.

"But nowadays we don't need those bags. We have all kinds of bags that we can just grab and use to store things in. So instead of making a little bag, I make them more decorative. They can be used for pen holders, or anything like that."

The size of the basket depends on the size of the feet.

The feet are very fragile, the skin so thin, the work so painstaking, that not many people have the patience. The feet have to be stored in the freezer until the basket is completed. And the longer the materials are stored in the freezer, the harder the work becomes.

Hainnu travels to share her knowledge of traditional arts and crafts, and her repertoire is limitless. Her work includes the goose foot baskets, carvings, tapestries, beadwork, traditional clothing, and jewelry.

In Nunavut, she's been to Cambridge Bay and Rankin Inlet, as well as to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. She's also been asked to exhibitions in Paris, France, London, England, Washington, D.C., and Arizona.

"There's an entire world that you can explore. Seeing new things, I love that part, too. I've been very fortunate to be asked to participate in exhibitions," she said.

Hainnu has worked as a school teacher for almost three decades, and when she's not teaching at the school, she works at arts and crafts.

"I love doing arts and crafts, it doesn't matter when or how I do it," she said, adding she also loves fishing.

"Right now I'm teaching at the elders centre making kamiik. I was so privileged to be selected to teach in this program that we're running right now. I like to do traditional stuff. Or even modern.

"I do a lot of stuff on request. If I'm asked to do a carving, I'll do that. If I'm asked to do a parka or an amauti, I'll do that. "

Hainnu, a grandmother of 14, is also a lay reader at her church.

"I love being busy. I actually think that's the purpose I was brought to Earth," she said.

"I think keeping arts strong is very healthy. Mentally because when you're working on an art project, there's nothing else that you're thinking of. Just your art project and how you want it to turn out. And physically because you do a lot of moving around.

"I encourage younger generations to try and keep their art going. Even if it's not traditional."

Next on her agenda, making her granddaughter and daughter each a pair of kamiik.