Winter parkas were made to withstand the bitterly cold weather. Tanned furs were turned into fine crafted tunics and coats for winter wear.
Around the time of the earliest settlers, the Southern Tutchone were reported to have been wearing winter attire which consisted of a tunic and moccasin-trousers fur side against the body for warmth. In extremely cold weather a second outer layer was added over the clothes. Outer layer jackets were designed with the fur side out to keep snow away from the body. Typically outer layers opened in the front and were tied shut with strands of hide. The open front jacket gained in popularity with the introduction of Euro-Canadian clothes. First Nation seamstresses began to cut clothes, coats and other garments to reflected foreign designs.
This jacket at Kluane Museum of Natural was made by Marge Jackson, a well known Haines Junction seamstress. It was created in a Euro-Canadian design adopted by Yukon First Nations but incorporates many traditional decorative elements such as the tassels, fur trim, and toggles. The tassels are made with natural elements such as bear claws and hide. The fur trim is decorative and functional as it deflects blowing snow and wind away from the face. The toggles that fasten the coat are made of teeth.
However, the influence of European settlers cannot be overlooked, as it is indicated in the design as well as the beaded embellishments. Beads were first introduced to Yukon First Nations by Russian traders, since then, beadwork has become synonymous with First Nation design. As with all societies fashion followed trends, and because of lack of proper details from early collectors it is difficult to attribute one cut of clothing to a group with certainty. However beading was highly personal. Beading patterns were in a sense guarded from others and in some cases a distinctive style can act like a signature. Sometimes unidentified works can be brought to elders and the piece can be attributed to a certain area or a certain artist. In this case the artist is known and Marge Jackson certainly looked to her beloved Yukon landscape for inspiration. She was well acquainted with the land. She lived, hunted and trapped on the land with her husband until their six children were school aged. She was taught to sew at a very young age and became renowned for her highly skilled abilities. Ornate beading decorates the hide shoulder and the hide band along the bottom the coat. The fireweed beading pattern attests to the Yukon locality. Fireweed plants are found throughout the Yukon and have been designated as the territorial flower. The eagle beading pattern may have been added as a way to signify the owner's spirit helper or family house.
Heavily decorated coats were too exceptional for everyday wear. The coat would probably have been reserved for special occasions. Southern Tutchone women were particularly skilled designers and seamstresses. The soft and supple tanned hides made by Southern Tutchone women were highly prized as trade items by the Coastal Tlingit. The women learn at a young age how to tan the hides and fashion them into garments and footwear. Decoration and adornment was a sign of good craftsmanship and wealth.
Kluane Museum of History, Burwash Landing