Louise James scraping moosehide, Carcross, Yukon, 25 July 1949. Photograph by Douglas Leechman. Canadian Museum of Civilization, J10908.

Stepping into Womanhood

“As soon as she starts her first menstruation, the change in her life begins. She is no more a free child, she has become a young woman. She is removed from the main camp, and has her own tent about half a mile from everybody, where she goes into a crash training ... Then you are introduced to sewing -- crafts like embroidering, sewing with porcupine quills, and beading ... a very talented woman is chosen to start the first stitching. It seems like how you did during that time was the formation of your life as an adult ... Nothing was written or read, everything was oral, but even today I still remember all that was told to me when I, too, had to go through that phase of life, when I stepped into womanhood.” Mary Wilson, Fort Good Hope

When the ability to make clothing from the land's resources was critical to survival, the education of a young girl in the techniques of skin preparation and garment manufacture began early.

At an early age, an Athapaskan girl learned the basics of skin tanning and sewing from watching and helping adult women. When she reached puberty, she was secluded, living some distance apart from her community in a specially constructed shelter for several weeks or months. While there she observed a number of food and behavioural taboos. Older women, particularly her mother, instructed her in proper social and ritual behaviour and in the practical skills necessary for adult life. Sewing was a girl's chief occupation during her seclusion, as it was critical to learn and perfect skills essential to her future role as a wife and mother.