Decorated hide shirts are worn by Yukon First Nations for special occasions such as potlatches and other ceremonies. Embellished shirts are much more time consuming to make than everyday wear and therefore would have denoted prosperity. In the old days, a hunter that could provide his family with plenty of food and pelts would have been wealthy enough to have high-quality garments. Women from these affluent families could spend less time gathering and preserving food and more time sewing and decorating garments. As a result, lavishly adorned clothing would convey notions of semblance and wealth.
Before contact with Europeans, most Yukon First Nations wore long tunics that tapered in the shape of a 'V' in the front and back. Once European style clothing was easily accessible, most Yukon First Nations switched from hide to cotton fabrics, however ceremonial attire did not change drastically due to the sanctity of tradition. In the last thirty to forty years there has been a movement for Yukon First Nations to reclaim traditions and revive conventional styles and techniques. Although European contact has clearly left a problematic impression on the traditions and artistic output of the Yukon First Nations, not all ancestral knowledge has been lost. Many scholars, band councils, and elders have been working together to write down Yukon First Nations oral traditions and expertise. This hide shirt was made as a part of this effort.
The shirt pattern is not truly representational of old world style. It is made without the pointed front and back. However it is closer to the tunic style than most jackets and open front garments usually found from the 1970s. The shirt is decorated along the bottom with fireweed, a prolific plant and territorial flower of the Yukon. The floral pattern along the chest uses a pattern called the Old Crow rose. Old Crow is in northern Yukon and is noted as the area where the pattern was developed. The beads and other embellishments are indicative of the times. The plastic beads and buttons are modern, while the toenail toggles are old-world ornaments. Yukon First Nations have used the toenails as decoration or as warning bells since ancient times. This shirt demonstrates the fine craftsmanship of the Southern Tutchone women and the maker's patient ability to command a needle.
Kluane Museum of History, Burwash Landing