Labrador Clothing
Content provided by: Kevin McAleese, Archaeologist, Archaeology & Ethnology, Provincial Museum of Newfoundland & Labrador
How to stay warm and dry in a cold place
Labrador has an abundance of animals from which people made clothing. Little clothing from ancient times has survived, though even the earliest people would have had to make useful, comfortable garments that protected them from the elements.

Two resources particularly important for clothing were seal and caribou. The hair of caribou is relatively long, dense and hollow. These characteristics help insulate well and, in a climate periodically known for its extreme cold, caribou skin clothing was efficient. For millennia people in Labrador would have known this, turning an animal that was a main source of food into parkas and jackets to keep them warm.

In the case of the Maritime Archaic Indian people of three-four thousand years ago, arrangements of shell beads from ancient graves suggest decoration around the edge of a hooded garment. Another ancient people, the Dorset Palaeoeskimos of two thousand years ago, made small stone/bone carvings that depict them with high collars or hoods on their jackets/parkas.
In the historic era the Inuit used caribou hide for their hooded parkas and finely sewn sealskin for pants and especially for waterproof boots. Inuit women made these essential items for people who needed to kept their feet warm and dry.

The ancestors of the Innu probably made caribou skin clothing since their arrival on Labrador, but during historic times they are especially known for their painted jackets and coats. Each required about 3 caribou skins, the best ones bleached white and painted with intricate patterns in yellow, red, brown, black and blue. Innu women would dry, scrape and soften the hide, a laborious and repetitive operation but one which produced a long-lasting skin.

When Europeans came to Labrador they learned from the Aboriginal people how to make animal skin clothes and, eventually, made versions for themselves.

These skin clothes not only reflect artistic, moral and religious traditions, but they act as a link to a common hunting heritage we all share. These traditions continue to evolve, reflecting Labrador's multi-ethnic society and its traditional ways of life.

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