A vast area – approximately 2,000,000 square miles
that includes most of interior Alaska and Canada.
Mobility and adaptability have always been essential
Survival is dependent upon the abundance and
seasonal migration patterns of animals.
Predominant features are barren tundra to the north and
dense forests to the south.
There are also areas of open woodlands and swamps,
mountains, river valleys, and lakes.
Winters are long and bitterly cold, with limited daylight,
heavy snowfalls and piercing winds.
Summer is short, humid and warm.
Food resources can be unpredictable and so an integral
relationship between humans and animals developed.
Animals provide food and raw materials in the form of
hides for shelter and clothing, bone and horn for tools,
sinew for thread and bowstrings – and nearly all other
materials were obtained from the forests.
The lifestyle encouraged self-reliance.
Children learn very early, the skills
necessary for survival in such
Change has come quickly to
traditional life, the ramifications still
being experienced today.
A strong mixture of utilitarian and ceremonial items have
been made for centuries, to promote survival of the people
and the culture.
Many traditional artforms
continue to be made today in
the subarctic region.
Beadwork traditions are strong
and are often used to
decorate ceremonial clothing
as well as items for everyday
Some individuals became
accomplished for particular
techniques and materials – and
their efforts and artistry are
continuously sought by other
members of the community.
Contact with outside cultures
brought tremendous change in
goods and raw materials.
Beaded pouches show both floral and geometric patterns…
Colors were often obtained through ability rather
Beaded Hat & Gloves
Wood and Bark
People relied on the forests for building shelters:
Log houses, pole frames covered with skin or bark
…and for transportation:
Sleds, Toboggans, Snowshoes, Canoes
…for hunting and fishing equipment:
…for dishes, ladles, and serving utensils
Innovations often meant survival.
Some artforms are familiar variations, others are
new and unique…
Among the Chippewa, a complete set of winter clothes
for an individual could take as many as 11 caribou
Acquiring, processing, and tanning animal hides is
arduous work, requiring many hours:
De-hairing (for summer clothes)
Repeated scraping, soaking, stretching and rubbing
with animal fat and brains
Smoking over a smoldering fire for waterproofing
Clothing is adaptable to the environment for survival.
Quill and Hair Embroidery
Quills include porcupine and split
Hair included moose and caribou
Colors were used in their natural
state or dyed using plant and
Moosehair Embroidery and Tufting
Beads, quillwork, and moosehair embroidery adorned just
Beads adorned all clothing items, including moccasins and
produced a variety of
footwear from simple
moccasin styles, to
Birchbark working is common.
Birchbark is often embellished
with embroidery, beadwork,
Quill and beadwork traditions
continue to be paramount in
subarctic tribes today.