Dance of the Loon: Symbolism and Continuity in Copper Inuit Ceremonial Clothing

Bernadette Driscoll-Engelstad


In the early twentieth century explorers, ethnographers, and entrepreneurs penetrated the territory of the Northern Copper Inuit who had been virtually isolated from western contact. They encountered a society and material culture seemingly unaltered by western influence. Working with both museum collections of indigenous fur clothing from this region and the graphic art of Copper Inuit elders, this paper proposes the existence of an extensive ceremonial clothing complex comprised of dance clothing and shamanistic vestments unknown elsewhere in the Canadian Arctic. The distinctive style of Copper Inuit cariboufur clothing, including dance and shamanistic clothing, disappeared from this region by the 1930s. However, as a result of collaborative fieldwork in the early 1990s, a style of Copper Inuit clothing has re-emerged as dance clothing in the context of the Kingalik Jamboree, an annual festival held in Holman (Uluhaktok) on the western coast of Victoria Island, Canada. This preliminary study of the ceremonial clothing of the Copper Inuit reveals the creative skill of Inuit seamstresses in shaping cultural ideas and preserving ancestral traditions through clothing design.

  • Bernadette Driscoll-Engelstad, 10012 East Bexhill Drive, Kensington, Maryland 20895

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