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Ceremonial Dance Hat

Curated Submission
Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories
DIMENSIONS in centimetres
38 x 18
Materials & techniques
Bird skin, seal skin, caribou skin, ermine pelt, sinew; Sewn, stitched
Helen Kalvak
Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre 979.060.001b
This bonnet-style dance hat is distinctive of Inuinnait traditional clothing worn at drum dances on ceremonial occasions. The hat is made with narrow strips of dark seal skin alternating with skin dyed red with ochre and white-haired caribou skin. The strips are sewn together with sinew and fine hand-stitching. A loon’s beak stands up from the top of the hat, and the skin and feathers of the loon’s head extend down the sides. Two whole ermine pelts, complete with whiskers, dangle from the loon’s beak. The hat was worn with other pieces of special dance clothing: a hoodless parka, trousers, mitts, and pleated seal skin shoes. The hat was passed around between both men and women dancers, with the ermine skins swinging to the beat.
Helen Kalvak (1901–1984) was born in a camp at Tahiryuak Lake, Victoria Island, Northwest Territories. Her family followed the traditional movements of their peoples walking across the land in the summer and living on the sea ice in the winter to hunt caribou, birds, fish, and seals. She learned the knowledge of the land and the skills of a seamstress. In the 1960s, when the Holman Co-op was established, Kalvak was a founding member and became an artist. Many of her drawings depict Inuinnait clothing and dance hats, and she and her husband, Edward Manayok, are fondly remembered for their drumming and dancing. In interviews with Kalvak about her art, she comments on the symbolism in dance hats – the loon is admired for its song and dance and its ability to move through both the air and the water; the ermine has qualities of agility, alertness, and speed. Kalvak was inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1975 and received an Order of Canada in 1978.
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