The Native people of Alaska (USA), known generically as Inuit or Eskimos, live in one of the most challenging environments of our planet. Protective clothing often means the difference between life and death. The Yup’ik are an Eskimo people living in southwestern Alaska, where temperatures range from 20 degrees Celsius in the summer to -14 in winter. Yup’ik women are responsible for clothing production in their communities; Yup’ik girls traditionally cannot marry until they have mastered skills such as hide preparation and sewing. Over the centuries they have developed a distinctive style of clothing that is insulated and durable, waterproof, wind resistant, and comfortable to wear even while hunting or fishing.
Eskimo parka from among the Yup'ik, Alaska (1980s; TRC 2020.0400).
The handmade woman’s parka (TRC 2020.0400) was produced around the 1980s in Emmonak (population 762), near the Bering Sea in Alaska. In 1986 it was given as a gift by a Yup’ik woman to the gussuk (white man), Michael J. Anderson, a lay Roman Catholic worker at the St. Mary’s Mission School, near the confluence of the Yukon and Andreafsky rivers. It was a thank-you for accompanying a group of boys back to their villages, some 80 miles from the boarding school. A parka (an Inuit word meaning “animal skin”, first written down in English in 1625) is a traditional hooded jacket, frequently hip length, made most often of caribou skin (either from the wild caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti) or the domesticated Rangifer tarandus taranduse, or seal skin.