Sunday December 13, 2015

Nunavut woman keeps Inuit traditions alive in Winnipeg

Annie Bowkett creates traditional Inuit clothing by hand 1:14

Listen 6:02

In the middle of Winnipeg, Annie Bowkett keeps her Inuit traditions alive.

She makes everything from sealskin parkas to mitts to kamiit. Kamiit are sealskin boots — a traditional footwear of the Inuit and similar to mukluks. Bowkett has shipped her handmade work to customers as far away as Tokyo.

The kamik Bowkett is working on is made from caribou legs. She says it takes two caribou — or eight legs — to make one pair of kamiik because the animal's legs are very skinny.

"They keep our whole body warm," Bowkett said.

Kamiik meme

An explanation of the different words for Inuit footwear. (CBC)

Originally from Pangnirtung, Nunavut, Bowkett moved to Winnipeg seven years ago. Her workshop, which she refers to as a "shack," is an extension of the garage of her home.

Inside the warmly lit workshop ulus, traditional cutting tools, hang on key holders. A quilliq, a traditional seal blubber oil lamp, burns, casting heat throughout the room while a bed on the floor lines one wall.

Bowkett said being in her shack reminds her of being out on the land. She often works into the wee hours of the morning sewing and chewing the caribou skins to make kamiit.

"We Inuit are always chewing. Chew, chew, chew," Bowkett said, smiling. The chewing is what makes the caribou skin wider and longer.

Bowkett wasn't always this close to her traditions. When she was growing up in Nunavut, Bowkett lost her connection to her mother and their traditional way of life because she was sent off to school.

"By the time I went back to my family, I started to get interested in what my mother was doing," Bowkett recalled. She also learned a few things from mother's sisters as well.

"I had beautiful aunties who were very traditional. They were very strict on me, if I really wanted to learn I had to respect them and accept them," she said..

"I used to cry going home because it was too hard.  But then after a few years later, I started to enjoy it and that's how I found it again."