© McCord Museum
Anonyme - Anonymous
1900-1905, 20th century
Ivory, slate, iron, resin
12.8 x 6 cm
Forbes D. Sutherland Collection - Gift of Miss Yvonne Sutherland
© McCord Museum
Keys to History:
Before skins can be made into clothing, they must be treated. Otherwise they will stiffen, rot or split with use. The lengthy process of scraping, wetting and rescraping is repeated until the skins reach the desired quality. Speaking of caribou hide, Sarah Baron of Kangiqsualujjuaq, Nunavik, explained, "When it was dry, it was scraped with a sharp scraper so that it was soft enough to be somewhat elastic... It had to be kneaded and then with a sharp scraper it was scraped until it was nice and smooth."
Sealskin is treated in a similar manner to caribou, but the steps occur in a different order. The women, sometimes aided by the men, first employ a blunt-edged scraper to remove the meat and fat particles from the skin's inner side. This very hard work may take three hours. Once the tissues are removed, the skin is moistened, left for a day or so, scraped across the length and breadth, gently stretched, then rescraped with a sharp scraper or ulu that gives the skin a fine, soft texture.
This scraper consists of an ivory handle, a collar of old ivory affixed to the underside, possibly of mammoth bone, and a slate blade that has been glued into the handle. The handle is carefully carved to fit the user's hand.
The scraper was collected by Forbes D. Sutherland at Qikiqtaruk (Herschel Island, Yukon Territory) when he was a constable with the North West Mounted Police. It is typical of those found in the western Canadian Arctic and in Alaska.
Constable Forbes collected the scraper when on a tour of duty with the North West Mounted Police (forerunner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) from 1903 to 1905. However, the polish and signs of wear on this scraper lead us to believe that it was made and used some time before Constable Forbes obtained it.
Sometimes referred to as the Mackenzie Delta Inuit, the Inuvialuit inhabit Canada's northwestern Arctic coast from the border of Alaska to Avvaq (Cape Bathurst, Nunavut). The forebears of the Inuvialuit shared their economy, their technology and their culture with the North Alaskan Inupiat, with whom they mixed and traded.