The same kind of spiritual relationship was thought to exist between an individual and his clothes as an animal carcass and his pelt or 'clothes'. Thus to wear well made and decorated clothes was to take pride in one's self. The greatest artistic skills were often exhibited in ceremonial dress and adornment. Capes, such as this, were worn at potlatches and other feasts.
Southern Tutchone society is divided into two halves, or moieties, called Wolf and Crow. Each moiety has a certain responsibility to the other, particularly in important ceremonies. If a deceased person belongs to the Wolf side, for example, the Crows are responsible for the burial. When a person died, they were buried with things they would require in the spirit world, such as food and clothing. A woman's items might include sewing tools, skins and beads. A man might be buried with his weapons.
The most important Southern Tutchone ceremony is the potlatch which is celebrated about a year after the burial. A spirit house, or more recently a head stone, is erected on the burial site. Then, a feast is held to honour the deceased. At one time, if the person was particularly important, guests were invited from far away. The feasting, dances and speeches could last several days. The guests were expected to dress in fine clothing or ceremonial gear. Special garments and decorative clothing such as the cape would be worn to such events.
This garment is particularly interesting due to the fine detailed beading and fur usages. Even the hide holding the squirrel tail tassels are decorated in glass beads to look like squirrel faces. Decorations such as the toenails and shells are important to the garment because they make noise while dancing at the festivities.
Kluane Museum of History, Burwash Landing