The Sharing of Knowledge Yup’ik Elder teaches art of sewing Atasuaq

by Ann Fienup-Riordan

Albertina Dull, Cingyukan, of Nightmute turned 101 years old on October 10! Just before her birthday, she gave the region a wonderful present. She showed a group of women from Toksook Bay — including Martina John, Ruth Jimmie, and Nellie Jimmie–how to make an atasuaq (a one-piece birdskin parka for a tiny baby), something that has not been made in the Delta for more than 80 years.

Last May, Albertina taught us how to clean and prepare six bird skins — two metrak (common eiders) and four allgiaraat (long-tailed ducks). Martina John was already an expert in cleaning, preparing, and sewing bird skins. We scraped off the fat, washed the skins, then flexed them in a circular motion to make them soft and pliant.

During the last week of September, we came together again at Martina John’s house, and Albertina showed us how to cut and sew the skins into a tiny parka — perfect for a newborn. We even had a chance to visit April Peter Lawrence (Atkuilnguq) and her week-old son, Aqvangaq Spencer Lawrence. Many hands carefully put him in the parka, and he just fit!