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2/13/15 Chukchi oil development approvals moving forward

Shell one step closer to developing up to 4 billion barrels of oil

A federal agency has removed a roadblock to offshore drilling in Arctic waters this summer. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said Thursday it corrected parts of an environmental review of a proposal to develop as much as 4 billion barrels of oil in Alaska's Chukchi Sea. A federal appeals court had ruled the environmental review was flawed when it was prepared before 2.7 billion dollars in Chukchi lease sales in 2008. The lawsuit had held up drilling by Royal Dutch Shell.

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University regents looking at tuition hike they rejected last Fall

University of Alaska regents say they will reconsider a tuition increase they rejected in September. The Alaska Dispatch News reports UA President Pat Gamble says the university needs to close an anticipated multimillion-dollar budget shortfall. The regents rejected a 4-percent increase last fall. Now they're considering a 5-percent increase.

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Students learn how to sew seal intestines to make an insulated raincoat that beats most modern materials

Recently, about a dozen students gathered at the Cultural Center in Bethel to learn the traditional art of "gut sewing." Seal intestines were prized throughout Yup’ik history for their waterproof performance before modern materials took hold. And now a culture bearer from Chefornak is trying to bring back the skill.

For most students, today is the first time they have ever worked with guts. 

Their 71-year-old instructor Mary Tunuchuk, however, has a lifetime of experience with the traditional material. She says imarnitet or "gut parkas" were critical for survival in her youth.

"The waterproof gut parkas were very important for men while hunting in the ocean," said Tunuchuk. "The way it reacts to moisture makes it a more effective insulated raincoat than most modern raincoats. In my first memories, women would learn to make raincoats, and other waterproof items before they get married, to ensure a better chance at survival. These days I never see anyone practice the art anymore."

Revitalizing the practice is part of the goal of the workshop, hosted by Bethel’s Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center and sponsored by the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center and the Anchorage Museum. Besides parkas, seal intestines were used to make all kinds of waterproof items like bags, mittens, boot-linings and even windows. Curator Sarah Owens explains students will be using two kinds of material.

"There's going to be a mixture of Native students who will be using seal intestine that Mary's providing,” said Owens. “But there's also going to be non-Native students like myself and we will be using a substitute. We'll be using hog intestine to sew with because it's actually illegal for us to be sewing the seal intestine."

Tunuchak explains the process starts with the raw seal intestines, which are washed. She uses a dull scraper to remove the soft fleshy material from a membrane, which later is painstakingly cleaned of any flesh or blood. It’s washed in brine or freshwater before being inflated like a long balloon and hung to dry. 

Tunuchuk taught the class the basics of sewing and the use of taperrnaq, or grass, as spacers between seams.

"It's not just any grass; it's beach grass,” said Tunuchuk. “They are flexible and we use them around the seams so we could tighten the thread without breaking the membrane. You have a tighter more reinforced waterproof seam, without tearing the intestine."

The students bent the edges of the material with their mouths, using their saliva to make the material more flexible and hold its shape while sewing.

Students end up having made an amber colored translucent window. In ancient times, the window would have served as more of a skylight, called tanqin, Yup'ik for "something that brightens." 

Bethel resident, Annie Roach says she’s at the class because wanted to connect with her culture.

"I've heard about some of the traditional skills and practices,” said Roach. “I've always wanted to learn and now I understand a small part of it."

Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center staff say there are plans for more workshops exploring traditional skills, like a doll making class in the last week of March, and a fish skin crafting class later in April. The seal intestines for the class were provided by Mary Tunuchuk, who processed the intestine from seals caught by her kids and grandkids.