Dog blankets making a comeback at 2017 Yukon Quest

The 2017 Yukon Quest ceremonial dog team will be adorned with traditional First Nations dog blankets.

'I'm just totally floored that we have ten blankets completed,' says organizer of the dog blanket project

Last September Florence Moses put out a call across the Yukon: Let's make dog blankets together. 

The call didn't last long. She received an outpouring of interest. 

Within four months, Moses and several other women completed the intricate, stunning dog blankets for the annual Yukon Quest.

"It's been four months of hard work," said Moses, who says she's excited to see her team's work come to fruition this weekend. 

"I'm just totally floored that we have ten blankets completed."

What's a dog blanket?

A dog blanket is a fabric that is embellished, that drapes over a dog's back.

Typically, they would have beads and embroidery, felt, satin ribbons and other decorations to make the blankets look "beautiful and pleasing to the eye."

Mandy Johnson and her dog blanket-fitting before Yukon Quest 2017 starts. Mandy and her husband Armin Johnson will be mushing the ceremonial dog team during the opening ceremony of this year's Yukon Quest Saturday. (submitted by Pauline Livingstone)

Bells are also attached to the blanket.

"As a dog team and its owner would approach a community, the owner would stop and put these wonderful beautiful pieces of art on the dog. So as they approach the community, they would hear the jingling of the bells ringing as the dogs ran with the blankets," explained Moses.

Dogs running in the Yukon Quest show off their dog blankets in a ceremony before the start of the race. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

"It would announce they're coming in and the community would know that someone's coming."

Different families had their own designs and style of beading.

The ceremonial sled dog team ran with their blankets, just before the beginning of the Yukon Quest sled dog race. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

"The blanket would also identify who the family crafts are," Moses said. "It's just a time honoured tradition."

The craft is developing into contemporary designs because of new ideas and new materials to work with, Moses explained. 

Resurgence of First Nations women's art

Moses says she believes there's a resurgence of First Nations women's art. 

"I'm very, very proud to be a First Nations woman, and to have the skills of our mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers be brought back to life."

Dog blankets are a First Nations tradition designed to be "pleasing to the eye." (Philippe Morin/CBC)

She said this time of sewing and beading for her was a time of healing. 

"[It] brings back memories of my family," she said. "It's a good time to heal. It's a good time to remember the good stuff. It's a good time to look forward."

The ten blankets will be showcased on the ceremonial opening dog team this year, bringing back the presence of the First Nations people into this annual event. 

Mandy and Armin Johnson's dogs run Saturday at 10:40 a.m., 20 minutes before the official race begins.  

with files from Cheryl Kawaja


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