The University of Alaska Fairbanks stands as the only college in the United States that offers a class in traditional parka crafting. Marilyn Koezuna-Irelan has taught the course on campus since 2008. She finds satisfaction in sharing her knowledge because she was raised on values of helping others.
Marilyn learned to make parkas from her mother Rose Koezuna, who was taught by generations before her. Her mother would invite her to help with sewing projects she was working on, and eventually learned to sew her own clothes. She says she learned the joy of sewing from working with her family.
“My grandma, Omiak, and then her mom, Suksraq, were very close to my mother and taught her how to sew seal skins, reindeer skins, squirrel skins, all kinds of skins. She taught every one of us children, 10 of us, how to use a sewing machine.”
The course contributes two credits toward the art requirements necessary for a bachelor’s degree. During the class, students fashion a parka to their size, which they can take home upon completing the course.
“We have all kinds of students. This last time, I had this one individual, she had a parka that was her grandma’s parka. They were basically about the same size. And so, we made a pattern for her grandma’s parka, so that she could make one for herself. They let us know we have to share and to teach people how to do things. And it didn’t matter where they came from, it was all walks of life.”
Image at the top: Instructing an atigi making course in 2020. Photo by Barb Amarok, used with permission.