Itchalik: Caribou Skin Tent

Tent Skins

The itchalik was made of two separate sets of caribou skin coverings: an outer set of dehaired skins that was used in both summer and winter, and an inner set of fully haired skins that was used only in the winter.

The process of dehairing the skins for the outer covering (tilliannaich) left them stiff and rain repellant. They were sewed together while still wet with the same type of waterproof stitch that was used to sew summer boots. Spring or summer caribou bull skins were preferred because they were large and relatively light weight.

In the summer, people put pigut or stones around the bottom edges of the outer skins. This held them in place in high winds.

In winter, people simply banked snow up around the side of the tent to keep the tillianaich in place. This embankment, called "saggun," also insulated the tent and kept cold drafts out.

Around the turn of the 20th Century, people abandoned the outer skin coverings and began using canvas tarps instead. These were both lightweight and could double for other tasks as well. In addition, they required no preparation time.

The skins on the inside, called itchat, were made from unscraped hides of spring cow caribou. They were also stitched together while still wet, and were then sewn into several separate panels that were tied to the tent frame with rawhide lashings.

A large tent might require 20 hides. The skins were always oriented with the bottom or tail ends touching the ground or toward the back of the tent.