Harvesting Bearded Seal Skins
by Mary Sage

photo taken 1899-1908

Harvested during the summer, bearded seals and the seal skins were rolled up with seal fat (to help remove the seal fur). They were stored underneath the houses and then thawed a few days before hand. All North Slope homes are built on pilings (outsiders say the look like stilts.  Our houses cannot touch the ground because the heat from the house will melt the permafrost and then the house will sink.

Seal skins are thawed a few days before they are used. The fur is scraped off of the skin, and then sewn together. The smell is ripe for some people, and new seamstresses usually make a few mad dashes outside the first time they sew. I was used to smelling my mother-in-law after she completed this sewing task, so the first time I sewed, I didnít even flinch. I've sewn only once, about two years ago, for my husband's family whaling crew Ė Akootchook Crew. It was a great experience and my mother in law Priscilla and the other ladies were very helpful and encouraging.

I was with my friend when I went to the Inupiat Heritage Center to take pictures of women sewing. I was in the Traditional Room for only ten minutes, and my friend almost threw up when I got back in the car. We had to drive with the windows down.

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