State lawmakers don AK Native garments to honor culture

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Source:   —  April 07, 2016, at 10:05 AM

The kuspuk cuts vary nearly as much as the trim chosen by the seamstress. Some have long sleeves, or are three-quarters length. Some are hooded, and others are long and worn as dresses rather than over pants.

State lawmakers don AK Native garments to honor culture

Every Friday during the AK legislative session, a growing grouping of state lawmakers trades suit coats and sweater sets for a loose-fitting traditional AK Native garment commonly called a kuspuk (KUH'-spuhk).

The kuspuk cuts vary nearly as much as the trim chosen by the seamstress. Some have long sleeves, or are three-quarters length. Some are hooded, and others are long and worn as dresses rather than over pants.

All are portion of a cultural tradition spanning generations among AK Native groups, who combined create up nearly twenty % of the vast state's population.

Now, state lawmakers — AK Native or not — are incorporating their own traditions into the pattern-making process and wearing the garments every Friday, marking a seemingly tiny but significant cultural modify at the Capitol, in a state where federal regulations once banned AK Native students from speaking their speech in schools.

"Visually, I think it'south a genuine nod to First Alaskans and their resourcefulness and practicality," said former legislator Mary Sattler, who grew up exterior of Bethel, a remote town in distant west Alaska.

For her and other Yup'ik Eskimos, the kuspuk is frequently portion of a daily wardrobe. A five-term lawmaker in the House first elected in one thousand nine hundred ninety-ninth, Sattler is credited with starting the Legislature'south kuspuk tradition, but says she didn't do so singlehandedly.

Inupiat legislator Eileen MacLean occasionally wore her kuspuk during floor sessions before Sattler, she said.

MacLean, a Democrat from Barrow, was a instructor and advocate for AK Native rights. After she died in one thousand nine hundred ninety-sixth, her daughter gifted Sattler with one of her kuspuks.

"They're just really practical and fun. So when I got into the Legislature it was tough not to wish to wear one every day," Sattler said. "So I just kind of restricted myself to Friday."

Sattler can't pinpoint the year the tradition developed, but remembers that she started wearing kuspuks regularly to the Capitol in 2004.

Others began following her lead. From Democratic Anchorage Rep. Les Gara'south sea-green, fish-patterned kuspuk to Rep. Matt Claman'south cream-colored, oar-printed pullover, legislators personalized the tradition.

For lawmakers on the go, the large front pocket, a common addition to a kuspuk, is a handy storage place. Sattler said she'd hold pens, her phone, schedule and anything else she needed for a day of meetings in the pocket.

Margaret Herron, who's Yup'ik and the wife of Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, began sewing many of the kuspuks worn in the Capitol after word spread that she made the garments. She'south a sewing machine waiting for her in Juneau when she treks across the state for a visit.

She doesn't get measurements before sewing. Instead, she guesses a person'south size based on a small, medium or large pattern. An adult-sized kuspuk takes her about four to five hours to make.

"I just kind of wing it," she said. "I know some Yup'ik ladies can just see at you and know how to create it in your size."

Kuspuk Fridays have become a mainstay at the Capitol amid a wave of policy changes honoring the state'south multi-cultural heritage, including a law passed two years ago that added twenty AK Native languages to the list of the state'south official languages. Selina Everson, a Tlingit elder from Angoon, S of Juneau, just latest mo delivered an invocation on the House floor in both Tlingit and in English.

Everson, a Tlingit speech and cultural preservation advocate, worked in Juneau for former Republican Gov. Jay Hammond in the 1970s.

"You didn't look kuspuks at the time. We didn't look anything love that," Everson said. "We've arrive a long way from the seventy, I would say."

For Eunice Hadley, who travels from Buckland, in northwest Alaska, to Juneau each year to advocate for her school district, the kuspuk tradition made her feel welcome.

On a recent Friday, Hadley sat on a bench close the gold-plated front doors of the Capitol, in a well-worn, ruddy and purple paisley garment that her mother made more than a decade ago.

It's a source of comfort, Hadley said, when she's able to wear it while meeting with lawmakers. She said she was fortunately surprised to look members of the state government wearing a traditional garment the first time she visited.

"It'south love they respect it," Hadley said.

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