Puberty hoods were the attire young women wore during the customary seclusion period following the onset of puberty. For the First Nation peoples of the Yukon, puberty was a very important right of passage. In the old days it was strongly believed that this time was pivotal in developing the young lady into a productive and spiritual woman.
The manner in which she acted during her first menstrual blood flow was believed to bestow good or bad luck on the rest of her life and the lives of her relatives. To insure good luck certain rituals were observed. Proper conduct compelled young girls to remain in the same spot once their menarche started. If the girl was walking and detected her flow she could be obligated to wait in the cold until someone found her. With good reason young girls, around the age of puberty, would always dress appropriately for the weather in fear of unexpectedly beginning her menstrual flow. Once found, a close male relative of the father's moiety (opposite of the girl's societal clan) would build her a brush hut away from camp where she lived alone for several weeks, or if from a wealthy or distinguished family, she could remain there for upwards of a year or two. Women, such as her mother, aunts or cousins would visit to bring food, help with rituals and to ensure that procedures were being observed.
Ceremonial customs could only be carried out by women of another moiety. A mother's duty was to give support and bring busy work for the girl to complete. The young lady would be dressed in a puberty hood, a long hood which extended several inches from her face and covered most of her body. This hood ensured that no one could see her face at this tenuous time, which could cause intolerable insult to the spirit world. The hood was decorated with embroidery, beading, and toenails of large game which served both as decoration and as warning bells to hunters. As a part of her attire she was also obliged to wear a drinking straw made of swan or goose bone around her neck. During her seclusion cold water was not allowed to touch her teeth. The young girl drank water through the straw from a fancy container made from an animal that gave birth easily, such as a duck egg shell or a hollow porcupine foot. This would hopefully allow her to have easy pregnancies in the future. She was also forbidden to eat fresh meat in the fear that her menstrual flow, a time of great spiritual power, would offend the animal spirit she was eating. Yukon First Nations believed that the animal spirit left the body of the meat four days after it was killed as a result the sequestered youth was relegated to eating dried meat.
During this time, she was kept busy with plenty of sewing, and if that ran out, she was to busy herself by picking needles off a spruce bough. She was kept busy to show the spirits her worth and in turn they would assist her in being good worker for the rest of her life. When it was time to come back to camp, the girl's mother or a woman of her matrilineage would go to the secluded camp and remove the hood. A scarf would cover the face of the girl until she was bathed and changed into new clothes. Her old clothes would be hidden in the bush. After her seclusion, the newly designated woman would stay close to camp and help her mother with family duties until she was married. From this point on, she was considered an adult and she was no longer allowed to converse with her blood brothers as a way to show respect.
Kluane Museum of History, Burwash Landing