When Ann Fienup-Riordan learned about an atasuaq from Yup’ik elder Albertina Dull, she estimated one hadn’t been made in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region for more than 80 years. An atasuaq is a tiny parka made with bird skins that mothers would use to keep their infants warm. Dull wore one as a child, but hunting regulations and modern clothing caused the practice to fade into obscurity until recently.
In 2019, Dull taught Fienup-Riordan and a small group of Yup’ik women how to clean bird skins that had been gifted them by hunters. The process to clean and shape six skins was long and taxing. Once complete, Dull directed the younger women how to sew the skins into a small parka. When the parka was completed in September 2019, residents of Toksook Bay flocked to see the small atasuaq. The group was even able to slide the parka onto a newborn in the village.
Atasuaq are sewn so the feathers face inward. “They’re so warm. They’re perfect for winter wear,” Fienup-Riordan says.
Fienup-Riordan and Calista Education and Culture, Inc., have plans to continue the project once in-person gatherings are safe. Dull will continue to pass on her knowledge of atasuaq making to younger generations, and this time Fienup-Riordan plans to record a video tutorial.