The Block

The central figure of the Labrador block is a “tea doll,” created by artisan and craftsperson, Emily Flowers. The Inuit woman is wearing a distinctive piece of clothing called an amauti, as her baby’s face peeks out next to her own. Her feet are kept warm in boots with sealskin legs and smoke-tanned caribou soles. Before migratory hunters and their families would leave on long trips, the women would sew tea dolls out of broadcloth or smoked caribou skin and then stuff them with two-to-three pounds of loose tea. This custom not only gave the children something to play with on the journey, but also allowed them to carry part of the load. The woman is flanked by two Inukshuks sewn in white tanned caribou skin. These magnificent stone figures, unique to the Canadian arctic, are used as guideposts and food caches in the region. Directly below the doll sits a replicated ulu— exclusively a woman’s tool–that honours their work. The interlocked, raised beadwork surrounding the doll, represents the spectacular Northern Lights and the ever-precious sun.

Ancient Thule Home
Ancient Thule rest house
Map of Nunatsiavut, showing the location of the Labrador Inuit
National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka - Soapstone lamp - Inuit people in Canada - Made before 1954
Soapstone lamp

Cultural Profile

The modern-day Labrador are descendants of the Thule Inuit who came to Labrador from the Arctic in the early 1300s. They were nomadic hunters; a lifestyle that remained relatively unchanged until the 1950s. In kayaks, one-man enclosed vessels made with a wooden frame covered in seal skin, they hunted fish, seals, walrus, and even whales along the coast. The weapon of choice when hunting the larger sea mammals was the harpoon. Kayaks were also used to hunt caribou. Women and children would drive the herd into a lake or river where the men, waiting in their kayaks, would kill them with a lance or bow and arrow. Water travel for more than one person required an umiak, a larger boat capable of carrying up to twenty people. Travel inland was accomplished both on foot and by dog sled (komatik).

Hunting is still part of the Labrador lifestyle, however, the weaponry has changed as a result of European contact. Hides and fur were absolutely necessary for survival in the cold northern temperatures, and seal skin was favoured for its waterproof qualities. Typically two layers of clothing were worn; the first with the fur side in, which kept the warmth in and absorbed perspiration, and the second with the fur side out.

Girls learned to sew at an early age, making mitts, boots and coats, often by the light of their soapstone oil lamps. A woman’s lamp was her prized possession. The flat crescent-shaped lamp was dutifully and lovingly kept trimmed and filled with oil throughout her life. When the woman died, the lamp was buried alongside her, a hole drilled through it to release its “spirit” to join her on the journey into the afterlife.

The Labrador are known for their grass work items, the making of which is an arduous process. The grass, found along the coast of Labrador, is worked and sewn into a continuous coil. Tightly sewn with a whip-stitch, the grass work is then waterproof. This craft is used to make everything from baskets to hats to placemats.

Sponsor: C-Tech Ltd. | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons