Yup'ik woman from Akiacuaq (Akiachak) Alaska, living in Fairbanks Alaska. Alaska Native Artist. I am a poet! I am a wife of an amazing man from South Lake Tahoe, CA and a mother of two children. I enjoy the outdoors in Alaska. I made a Yup'ik woman's traditional fancy parka, "Qaliq." I am in a process of working on a child size parka and other Yup'ik traditional clothing. I share wonderful things about Alaska, the arts and the outdoors.
I wanted the experience of trapping Arctic Ground Squirrels AKA Parky Squirrels and in Central Yup’ik, “Qanganat”
My family and I met up with Harry and Sharon Alexie and their son and daughter on the Denali Highway. There, I also met Sargent Guy and his three year old son George. I bought 58 squirrels from Sargent to began my parka project. I had a most awesome learning experience from them in just short two hours or so – because they had to catch their flight back to Bethel the very next day, they gave me a crash course of trapping squirrels! They also lent me their traps – at least a dozen traps, with my lack of experience I only bought 6.
Trapping starts early part of August until hibernation or spring when they are coming out of hibernation.
My heart was bounding and my hands were shaking – not like any class I have taken – this was learning from observation and actually almost snapping my fingers into the trap!
Their children gave me courage from watching them skinning the squirrels – I stood there proud in my heart how fantastic work their doing! Little George made me proud too for his patience as he waited and played amongst the busy hands preparing the squirrels for parties and celebrations. Kwethluk, my mothers childhood home is known to have big feasts and celebrations and where squirrels are a delicacy. As a young child I believe I may have tried but I really don’t know – I must have smelled it in the air while it was cooking and passed up on the opportunity. I will have that taste when we have a celebration with family and friends!!! I still need to go trapping for the third time before they fully hibernate so I have enough to share. At this time we caught a total of three.
I have never worked so hard for little critters other than salmon!! You know what – just like fish you get a connection with squirrels – it was our ancestors way of life for food and warmth. I am looking forward to more trapping with my family. My girls brings me joy and encouragement as they are learning with me – It’s neat and challenging! We also saw caribou, flowers and black berries on this trip. Thanks to my husband Matt Wharton who does not give up on me 🌸.
I might be dragging few of my friends to come with me before the squirrels run off to sleep – be ready friends!
Most importantly, thanks to my Lord Jesus who blesses me with these experiences – I prayed and he answered. He knows my ❤️!
When I think of the shield on the parka, I think of God’s words, “You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.” Palm 119: 114. I found that the word, ‘shield’ is used in the Bible many times.
I am encouraged today – even when I am not walking in full armor in my daily life, Jesus is my refuge.
Today, I cut up the patterns for the shield but slightly changed the height to avoid the black spots of the calf skin. In the old days they used caribou as the shield. Perhaps, next time with the child parka I’ll use caribou skin as a shield.
I am searching for caribou hide for the hair strips. I am thinking of using caribou or moose sinew to sew the strips on. I am getting more excited about sewing them together. It’s easier than I thought. If you already hand sew – this too is possible!!! I encourage you as the Word of God encourages me – take on a challenge and learn with me. You can contact me for ideas – I like sharing what I am learning.
The swan feets are both dry. They turned out great! I think I may have to find caribou by way of hunting for them.
Talking about hunting, I actually went trapping for Arctic Ground Squirrels and caught three 🙂. Thanks to Harry and Sharon Alexie and their children and Sargent and his son George Guy for showing me the ropes of squirrel trapping – I learn a wealth of knowledge within an hour or two to trap and the proper way of taking care of the meat. Quyana cakneq!!! It took a lot of courage for me to step into the trapping experience- it’s harrowing to do it alone for the first time – thank God my daughter was with me. Stay tune for more stories with pictures!
Have a wonderful week! Piurci!
I skinned and pulls apart one side of a Swan feet for strips on the shield and the black fish tail. I used small uluaq (women’s sewing knife) and believe it or not my teeth to pull apart the skin from the joint.
Next step is do the other swan feet. After I dry them – I will work on the shield and work around the shield, sewing the squirrels. I need to find caribou hair for decorative strips that goes with the swan feet. I have reddish brownish leather for the other strips for the shield.
While I was at Fish camp – I peeled bark off from an alder wood my brother cut down for smoking the salmon. When I returned to Fairbanks- after talking with Lolly Carpluk and her mom – I was able to get instructions from Lolly and her mom to do my first experiment of natural dyes.
By their instructions: I mixed together alder bark, salt and warm water. I soaked the hairless seal skin into the mix for few days. I checked it a few times until the desired red color was present. I will experiment with soaking it in white vinegar first and try the alder dye again or visaversa.
The Arctic Ground Squirrels and the Rasmuson Grant came on the same day!
Here is a step by step process of cleaning; First – I washed them with Dawn dish soap and some with olive oil soap and some with Fels-Naptha – testing which soap removes the grease and keeps the fur soft – I think the olive oil soap was better but Dawn soap definitely removed the grease. I had to remove the hind feet as I cleaned each fur. Feet were left to dry for weight purposes. After the rinsing the soap off the fur and skin – I air dried them and I also used a fan (stay tuned for a video). When the fur is dry the skin needs to be stretched on the boards while its damp. To make the skin smooth – I used baby powder as the skin was a little sticky. The fur must be removed from the board before it’s fully dried or it will be hard to remove from the board.
Most important, working the skin must immediately take place to soften the skin – making it pliable for sewing.
This first batch of tanning were completed in Fairbanks before my trip to fish camp 🌸
These are what I started off with before the Arctic Ground Squirrels arrived from a young man from my mother’s childhood home, Kwethluk. What a blessing to have such a young man with family to continue the tradition of hunting and trapping ground squirrels – nothing is wasted from all the catches. Quyana tailuci!