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Gifts from the Land: Lifeways and Quill Art of the Athabascan Peoples

Athabascan territories cover nearly half the state of Alaska, and these lands have diverse environments and wild resources that Athabascans respect, harvest and share. Wild resources are used for food and for raw materials to make things. For example, Athabascan peoples harvested porcupine to eat and also carefully processed its quills into a fine material to beautify special items, and some artists continue to use quill in their work. Artists today wrap, sew and weave quills onto clothing, bags and boxes made from tanned moose and caribou hide, like their ancestors did in the past.

The curriculum below consists of five activity-based lessons and will teach students about the Athabascan peoples of Alaska: their languages, traditional values and knowledge, subsistence lifeways, and historic artifacts, with a focus on porcupines as a local resource and its quills as an artistic material. The three videos referred to in curriculum Lesson 4 are provided below and are part of a 8-video set on this site in the Community Videos section, titled Quill Art videos.

Tags: Alaska, Alaska Native, Indigenous, Athabascan, Dene, subsistence, traditional ecological knowledge, museum, museum objects, artifacts, quill, porcupine, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Learning from Museum Collections

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska

Preparing Porcupine Quills

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska

Creating Quillwork 1 (of 8): Introduction

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska

Creating Quillwork 7 (of 8): Meet the Artists

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska

Creating Quillwork 2 (of 8): Materials & Preparation

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska

Tunic

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

Mittens

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

Gloves

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

Belt

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

Toboggan bag

National Museum of the American Indian