Skip to Content (Press Enter)



Result of conflicts between White, Indigenous and Inuit, Inuit families have fled the land to take refuge on islands, including the Belcher Islands. On those islands, no caribou could be found, but the bird fauna was prominent. So the Inuits have developed a bird skins clothing technology, and so they were dressed of bird-skin clothes only. It was the particularity of those islanders, which distinguished them from the inhabitants of the lands, who were wearing clothes made of caribou skins. This film illustrates the art of making clothes with bird skins.

MITIGAQ (1971)

On these Hudson Bay islands, traditional clothing was sewn from eider ducks skins.

16 mm colour movie (silent)

15 minutes

Director: B. Saladin d’Anglure

Camera: B. Saladin d’Anglure

Shot at Qurlutuq (Sanikiluaq – Belcher Islands, NU), August 1971

With the assistance of Jimmy Innaarulik Mark, Interpreter, transcriber, translator and filming support from Sylvie Pharand, Masters in anthropology candidate, Université Laval

Inuit participants: Kalai Kullualuk, Samueli Iqaluk, Aani Amittuq and Aisa Amittuq.

Off-line editing: Philippe Laugrand of audiovisual services at Université Laval, and the film team with the support of the director

Funding: CNRS, Canada Council for the Arts, Canadian Museum of Civilization and Département des affaires culturelle du Québec.

Full transcript


A still shot of a duck sculpture (soapstone).

Director's commentary: The Inuits of the Belcher Islands, or Sanikiluaq, rank among the best in terms of bird carvings. Many of their sculptures represent important bird life.


A man is building a hunting blind with stones, near a small lake. This blind is for hunting birds (eider ducks or loons), which will serve to make sewing kits (bags).

Director's commentary: So here we have a hunter, building a blind next to a small lake where he can keep a lookout for wild birds. What he wants are eider ducks, or perhaps loons, that can be used for garments and other items.


A shot of a stone print representing three ducks flying.


A man is building a hunting blind with stones, near a small lake. This blind is for hunting birds (eider ducks or loons), which will serve to make sewing kits (bags).


A woman wearing an amauti is walking on the land, towards the camera.


A shot of a stone print representing two ducks flying (the same print partially shown again).


A man is throwing a bird dart with a spear thrower (atlatl).

Director's commentary: Here we see ducks, or they might be geese also, that are hunted using a dart called nuiq (nuit is the plural of nuiq, which is the dart, the small barbed point; and since there are several it becomes nuit) with a spear thrower, which sends it into the air with great force; and with many barbs, it grips onto the bird and injures it or causes it to fall into the water.


A shot of a stone print representing a hunter throwing a bird dart.


A close-up of the hand of the hunter, holding the spear thrower (atlatl), as he is about to throw it.


Shots of two prints. First, the print of the three flying ducks again and a second print representing a hunter who just hit a bird (flying duck) with his dart.


The same woman is walking towards the man and his blind. He gives her an eider duck and a black guillemot.

Director's commentary: Here, we see Aani Amittuq. The man, Samueli Iqaluk, gives her a male eider duck and some small guillemots, smaller birds, which are eaten and their skins can also be used to make garments for children and adolescents. Men mostly wore clothing made from the black male ducks with white bellies, while women wore clothes made of female eider ducks in tones of brown, beige, etc. These skins were not as heavy or resistant, but women went out to hunt less frequently.


Another angle of the man handing to the woman an eider duck and a few black guillemots. Then she walks away from him, with the birds in her hands.


The woman walks on the land with the ducks in her hands. She stops, puts them on the ground and then we see she was also holding an ulu with the same hand. She sits on the ground close to the ducks and prepares to skin the ducks.


The woman starts preparing a male eider duck for skinning. She cuts off both feet and both wings. Then she goes towards the head.

Director's commentary: Here is Aani Amittuq, who later became the Mayoress of Sanikiluaq, where she left very good memories (she was mayoress for nearly five years). She is preparing to remove the skin from the duck. She skins the duck; she doesn’t tear off the feathers. She takes off the skin the same way people in other places skin a rabbit, except that here, she starts with the head.


A close-up of the woman skinning the eider duck, starting with the head, cutting the skin around the beak and beginning to pull it off.

Director's commentary: She cuts along the beak to salvage the maximum amount of skin. The skin is valuable, because it has feathers, and beneath the feathers is a very warm, fine down that the Inuits use as insulation. And not only the Inuits; it’s the reason for the term "eider down", used in bedding. Here we are seeing a male eider being taken apart.


From a different angle, we see the woman making an incision on the back of the duck, with the same ulu.

Director's commentary: An incision is made along the back, and the skin is removed. The idea is to have a uniform rectangle once it has been dried. And at a certain point, she turns it over.


From another angle, we see the woman detaching the bird’s legs from the skin, with her hands. Her ulu is set aside on the ground (she is sitting on a large flat stone and using it as a working surface).

Director's commentary: Here, she has to detach the area by the feet to get the skin there too, and then she can peel off the skin like skinning a rabbit.


The woman is pulling the entire skin from the duck, using her teeth to hold the head. Using her ulu, she cuts off the last sinews that keep the skin fixed to the duck’s back, abdomen, and feet.

Director's commentary: The woman uses her teeth like a third hand, to be able to pull more easily, and then with her ulu, the woman’s knife, she finishes cutting any small remaining sinews attaching the skin. She uses the simplest method to remove the skin from the leg area, by cutting off the webbed feet.


The woman finishes to skin the duck by cutting with her ulu the small sinews that hold the skin attached to the duck’s feet.


Two women are sitting in a skin tent, by the entrance. They hang the duck skins (one eider and three guillemots) on a piece of wood placed horizontally above the entrance. Underneath the skins is a cooking pot on a fire and something is boiling/cooking in it.

Director's commentary: And here’s the duck, one part ready to eat, either boiled or eaten raw, and then the skin that she dried. The skin was dried with its feathers first because it was soggy (the ducks are often retrieved from the water). And once the feathers are dry, it is turned over to dry the inside before it can be worked.


A close-up of the skins drying on the wooden pole.


A view of the skin tent with the two women sitting in front of it, chewing on the duck skins.

Director's commentary: In the second step, the skin has been dried and must be chewed, masticated, using the teeth.


A closer view of the two women chewing an eider duck skin and a guillemot skin. They are still sitting in front of the tent, with a qulliq and a cooking pot placed on it.

Director's commentary: So older people, older women often couldn’t do this step. They could sew, they could work, but they couldn’t do this chewing because they didn’t have enough teeth left in front, or had lost their teeth. Teeth were often worn down, traditionally right down to the gum, because even boots had to be softened by chewing, and women would do this. They had to soften the boots with their teeth, and boots that had become wet and then were dried, were very tough. The boots were not made from tanned leather, which is why they were waterproof, but they still had to be flexible.


A close view of the younger woman chewing a guillemot skin.

Director's commentary: So here, they are sucking out the fat and the small amount of blood or flesh remaining, and swallowing it. It’s very good, it’s nourishing, but it requires good teeth.


A close view of the older woman, chewing an eider duck skin.


A shot of the skin tent, with a woman sitting by the entrance. She seems to be working on something on the ground, or on her knees.

Director's commentary: This is the small conical skin tent that was used in summer, providing shelter and a place to work in.


A closer shot of the woman working by the entrance of the skin tent. She is cutting the eider duck skin with her ulu.

Director's commentary: The woman here is cutting the skin to trim the edges; she wants to have the maximum surface, but without rough edges. The most durable part, the dorsal part, is what will be used for sewing. So there are lots of smaller scraps, but they can be salvaged.


The same woman cutting the eider duck skin, but from a different angle.


A woman is sitting by a river, cutting the beak and throat of a gull. The gull is put in a wooden bowl.

Director's commentary: This is a gull, from which she will extract the throat, the esophagus, which she will use to make sewing thread.


The woman is pulling out and cutting a skin canal from the throat of the gull, using her hands and her ulu.


The woman turns the bowl over and uses the bottom as a surface to scrape the gull’s throat.

Director's commentary: It’s like a long tube that ends at the beak, and she’s going to scrape it on the bottom of a container used for holding meat; a container made of a piece of driftwood with an edge that was bent by heating. Here, she is scraping with a metal scraper, but in earlier days they used scrapers of polished stone.


A close-up of the woman’s hand scraping the gull’s throat on the wooden bowl’s bottom.

Director's commentary: She removes the remnants of muscles, tendons, and fat.


The woman rinses the gull’s throat in the river. Her scraper lies on a rock near her.

Director's commentary: She washes it in the stream before threading it onto wooden stick that is also used for softening skins and boot soles.


The woman gathers the wooden bowl and a wooden stick (to be used to stretch the gull’s throat), and walks away from the river.


The woman is back to her tent, sitting by the entrance, holding the wooden stick with the gull’s throat stretched and dried around it. With her ulu, she makes an incision on the dried membrane so she can start to remove it from the stick.

Director's commentary: So she slips it over this piece of wood to soften it before masticating it. She slips it over, and it forms a sort of small flat cylinder, which is left to dry for a few days. And when it’s good and dry, she makes an incision and pulls the membrane off the stick so that she has a long rectangle of dried skin, which she will cut into very thin strips that can either be braided, or twisted slightly to use as sewing thread.


A close-up of the same woman removing the membrane from the wooden stick.

Director's commentary: This thread was a substitute for caribou tendons, which were more prized for clothing; the tendons that run along the spinal column of the caribou, as well as other tendons taken from the arms of marine animals or along the backbone of the beluga.


The woman finishes to remove the membrane, and then places it on a wooden board in order to cut it with her ulu.


The woman cuts a thin band of the membrane with her ulu on the wooden board.


The woman is done cutting the thin band, and places the remnant of the membrane in her sewing bag made of a loon skin. Then, she takes the band and moistens it with her saliva in order to make it flexible again. She also stretches it using her mouth and hand so it becomes thin enough to go through a needle’s eye.

Director's commentary: So here she moistens the thread with saliva. She has taken the thread from her sewing kit, which is made of the skin of a loon, a greater loon, the tuulliq. She stretches it, and she could also grease it to make the sewing go more easily, especially if she wanted watertight seams. You can see the small rectangle; she has already cut off some of the contours and she can make it straighter still, especially along the edges she is going to sew.


The woman is stretching the membrane with her fingers.


The woman is sewing a duck skin with her thread made from the gull’s throat.

Director's commentary: For sewing, it is better if the skins are not too irregular so that the edges can butt up against each other. Joining up the pieces is a meticulous job; a man’s garment could easily involve forty skins, and a woman’s too, since the back panel is made of eider skin, even if the front is made of dog skin.


A close-up of the woman’s hands sewing, assembling two pieces of eider duck skins together. She uses a metal needle and metal thimble.

Director's commentary: So you can imagine how many ducks were needed to clothe a family; it took a lot of hunting. The male duck has more fat, and the skin is thicker thus heavier, but more resistant. Hunters have to go great distances to hunt and so they need more resistant clothing,


Another view of the woman sewing, assembling two pieces of eider duck skins together. She uses a metal needle and metal thimble.


A close-up of the woman’s hands sewing, assembling two pieces of eider duck skins together. She uses a metal needle and metal thimble.


A more complete view of the woman sewing and the piece of clothing she is working on (an adult’s parka).


The same woman, still sitting by the entrance of her tent, is sewing seal teeth on the parka. There is a child in her amauti.

Director's commentary: but the women had to carry babies, so they reinforced the edges of their clothing with sealskin borders, as they did for the men’s clothes. For the women’s clothing, they also sewed on seal’s teeth to make the edges a little heavier, so the tails wouldn’t lift in the wind, etc. That created a little more weight.


A close-up of the woman’s hands, sewing seal teeth on a sealskin band at the bottom of the parka.


A close-up of her hands fixing a seal tooth on the parka. Next to it, we can see colour beads and metal pendants, sewn with a piece of skin on the parka.

Director's commentary: On the coast, they quickly adopted using various sorts of pendants, the equivalent of the teeth but made of tin that they melted and poured into a little soapstone mold using tin spoons, which were the first cutlery that the traders brought with them and eventually sold as well.


A young woman is putting on an amauti, by the entrance of a seal skin tent. She then attaches the amauti cords (belt) around her chest.

Director's commentary: So here we see the coat and the belt that will ensure that the baby is held securely in the back pocket with its legs spread a little to each side, and the big hood shared by the baby and the mother.


A woman installs a child in the hood of her amauti.

Director's commentary: Now she will show us how she slides him in. This baby is no longer a newborn, but she slides him snugly into the pouch; they could even put in a naked baby, making it a sort of diaper.


A woman, sitting by the entrance of a sealskin tent, folds up a man’s parka made of elder duck (male) skin (feathers outside), and puts it in a skin bag.

Director's commentary: This is a winter coat for a man, with the feathers on the outside. He would wear another coat under it with the feathers on the inside; so with this double protective layer, he could go hunting, lie in wait for seals.


A close-up of a woman’s hands holding an eider duck skin boot, and turning it inside out.

Director's commentary: Here is a boot; the upper part made of duck skin and the foot part made of bear or dog skin.


The woman finishes to turn the eider duck skin boot inside out, folds it and put it in a skin bag.

Director's commentary: And this is a stocking that fits inside the outer boot; during snow melts, it would have a sole with an upper part that wraps up over the foot like a moccasin, made from marine mammals and with waterproof seams.


A man and a woman are sitting by the entrance of a skin tent. The man is preparing to make a fire.

Director's commentary: Here we can see the floor mats made of lyme grass. In this area, there is none of the dwarf willow used on the coast to make the mats that were laid over the snow in the igloo, before laying down caribou skins or mats made of birds’ skins.


He is picking up a piece of chert and a metal lime.

Director's commentary: This is Aisa Amittuq building a fire, using a flint and a piece of a metal file to make a spark in the tinder. Early on, after the arrival of the Europeans, they used pieces of canvas tents, which they would make smoulder by depriving the fire of oxygen, a little like making charcoal. And this is what they used to start fires.


Hitting the chert on the lime, he produces a spark, which he places on tinder and then he blows on it.

Director's commentary: With a spark, they could make a fire and heat a small soapstone pot.


A close-up of the man’s face and hands holding the tinder, as he continues to blow on it. There is more and more smoke coming out of it and then he puts the tinder/fire in a fire pit between rocks, in which he adds little pieces of wood.


A woman is sitting by the entrance of a skin tent, and another woman comes and hands her a water bucket made of skin.


The woman then pours water from the bucket into a metal cooking pot, and put it over a fire (between rocks).


A close-up on the pot, as the woman is putting herbs in it for infusion.

Director's commentary: And in the pot, they could make an infusion, a sort of Inuit tea. Like other places, Nunavik has many plants that can be used to make herbal teas, and when the Inuits had no imported tea, which they soon grew fond of, they would make this famous tiirluk, a replacement for tea.


A man and a woman are sitting by the entrance of a skin tent, lighting up their pipes.



1. Commentary [PDF 237.12kB]

PDF files require the Adobe Acrobat Reader, available here.