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Agnes Kuptana

Region: 
Beaufort Delta
Community: 
Ulukhaktok
Primary Art Type: 
Phone: 
(867) 396-3561
Address: 
Box 95
Ulukhaktok, NT X0E 0S0

Artist Story

What I like the most about living in Ulukhaktok is that I can go hunting and fishing, as well as teach the younger generation about our culture, our traditions and our language. I like to sew and make kamiks, mitts or parkas for them. I also like to share my knowledge and show the children how to sew for themselves.

I have been teaching sewing to the younger generation for many years now. With the help of other members of the community, we show them how to measure, how to make their own patterns, and how they can use scraps to make new designs. We’ve taught them how to make parkas, kamiks, sealskin mukluks and slippers. We also use our language as much as possible when we teach: it’s beautiful to see them learn that way and to see the progress they make! When they complete a project, they are so proud and very happy to have made something new to wear.

I learned to sew by sitting next to my grandmother. She saw that I was interested so she gave me a needle to practice with.  I watched her pull and twist really thin caribou sinew and cut it with her ulu. I learned a lot by watching her, my mother, and my older sisters too. They would put me to work by tanning caribou hides, rabbit furs, and sealskin. You have to be careful with rabbit fur because it’s very thin, but we used it to make slippers so we wouldn’t get cold feet when hunting. They also taught me how to use each small tool to cut, flush and scrape hides.

I’m not really into beading because that’s not what I grew up with, but I do embroidery. I also use the natural design from sealskin to create patterns. I like to create unique designs while using every part of the animal. I use everything in my own way, even the small pieces of scraps — my grandkids can use those to practice and make small items like zipper pulls, little kamiks, or small tapestry.

When I start a new piece, I will lay down my colours first. I look at pictures and I see which designs I haven’t made before and I will draw it with a pencil. Then I work on the project until it’s complete! It makes me feel so proud when I can give a homemade item to someone who doesn’t have anything. It’s important to come together, help others and not expect anything in return. Sooner or later it will come back in a bigger way, we just need to be patient!

When I’m sewing, I listen to stories on a tape recorder or CD. I listen to the Elders from way back, telling us how they survived. Our Ancestors used to go from camp to camp looking for animals, using everything they had, taking only what they need, and sharing with everyone: that’s how we were. Everything we hunted had to be well used. The seal was very important because the skin gave us clothing, the oil gave us light and heat for the qulliq in the igloo, and it was an essential source of food. When I sew and I listen to these stories, it makes me feel connected to my Ancestors.

Artist Bio: 

Agnes was born in Ulukhaktok, in the Beaufort Delta Region of the NWT, where she grew up until she went to residential school. Along with her family, she now owns and operates a small Bed & Breakfast in Ulukhaktok, where they also offer interpretation and translation services. Her son and husband run a commercial outfitting and tour business as well. On top of sewing and making crafts, Agnes learned many skills over the years, such as preparing hide, reading wind patterns, identifying important landmarks and reading the night sky.  Agnes enjoys teaching the extensive knowledge of her language and traditions to the next generations and she loves to give back to anyone in need, whenever possible.

Last Updated: September 20, 2019

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