Kamiik: Mine and Not Mine

I’ve been thinking about the reasons we have for making things.

Mostly-finished kamiik with the soles soaking in salt water to soften them up after they sat in my freezer for about nine months. One of them is inside out because when I got to the point that I realized I couldn’t finish them before D was born, I stopped right where I was, wrapped them up, and put them away.

I finished my kamiik a couple weeks ago. It was a wonderful surprise to be able to finish them so quickly. My ayanguaq let me come over to work on them, and decided I didn’t have to totally redo the soles, which about made me cry for joy. Then she spent the next afternoon and all day the next day over at my house helping me finish them. Since the kids were also home and awake all that time, she definitely did more than half the work.

Hannah saves the day!
Elisapee with little D Elisapee, at the Christmas feast. She did most of the softening on the white skin for my and N’s kamit, which was really stiff because I’d left it in my cold room too long. I couldn’t really soften it safely because I was very pregnant at the time, and it’s a lot of work on hands and knees. Now she’s walking me through the first steps of Jared’s kamiik.

In addition to repeated reminders to not rush and ask for help, I learned a couple more things from the end of this project.

The first is how different reasons can be for making things. There’s sewing because it’s an ordinary part of your daily survival, which is quite different to sewing to participate in your free time with helping your culture survive. I have a ton of respect for those who learned or are learning these crafts as adults, with a passion that helps them fit it around the new normal of westernized survival. Their stories are important; they are defining a sustainable future for their people.

I should mention: I did not make the beautifully embroidered duffle socks. They were a gift.

I’ve also accepted that this is not my story. It would not be right for my making kamiik to be about me. I live between worlds as a choice; my friends do not. At best I am a cheerleader, but mostly, I am just a guest.

I’m super thankful for my kamiik, and for the women who made them with me, and I hope that these skills continue to be passed on, and that Inuit (and their friends) are still making practical, beautiful traditional clothing a long time from now.

M and N in the kamiik I made them last year. All dressed up for church on Christmas.

One more thing to add: a couple of people have asked me if they are warm. Uh, yeah! I haven’t even finished all the layers yet (still gotta make those inner sealskin slippers), and these are at least as warm as my (Kamik brand) commercial boots. And this is probably the least warm style of kamiik; the ones with haired seal, or caribou, or black skin all over are warmer. And if you’re going out on the land, you might make an outer slipper to put overtop as well.

How are they to walk in? They’re a bit slippery, which takes getting used to, and there’s a little maintenance involved in making sure they stay stretched and not too wet or dry. That’s the price of using a living animal’s skin which has not been commercially tanned; as far as I know it’s only been treated with flour, chlorox, dawn, sunlight, and a lot of manual labor.

My favorite thing about them is that you can feel the land under your feet. I was the sort of kid who snuck outside without shoes or socks whenever I could, and walked on gravel to toughen up my soles in the summer. I miss walking barefoot on the grass, feeling the earth with my toes. But now I get to feel the land, and that means a lot to me. Some people don’t like that, but I really do.

Miqsuqtaa, piqatikka.


5 thoughts on “Kamiik: Mine and Not Mine

  1. Amazing things to learn a bit about from amazing people!

    I am a barefoot if possible kind of person too. Maybe that is why I don’t knit my own socks? 😉 I just look forward to taking them off. And the boy takes after me with that. He takes off his socks as soon as he can. Which is super annoying when we need to go back out and he has no idea where he left them.

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  2. The moment I saw these on your feet in those photos of the Kate Davies sweater, I had to know the story behind them. They are beautiful! Wear them in good health.
    A funny connection: in Winnipeg, many people wear mukluks, either handmade or mass produced. One of my dogs was very prey focused and just about pulled me down the street on his leash as he chased this young woman wearing beautiful black fur mukluks. We had to convince the dog that no, her feet were not animals and weren’t alive anymore! 🙂

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    1. Haha your dog is a riot! I have to hide my kamiik at my friends house with a dog too. Mukluks are so beautiful; I have some prairie province friends who have them. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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