Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: KTUU HomeCollectionsAlaska

Capitol continues commemorative kuspuk custom

March 06, 2010
  • Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom, chair of the House Rules Committee, sets the body's dress code -- but she allows one break from tradition every Friday. (Daniel Hernandez/KTUU-DT)
Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom, chair of the House Rules Committee, sets the body's dress code -- but she allows one break from tradition every Friday. (Daniel Hernandez/KTUU-DT)

by Ted Land
Friday, March 5, 2010

JUNEAU, Alaska -- Each Friday at the state Capitol, you'll notice some lawmakers looking a bit different. It's a way to remind themselves and others of Alaska's rich history.

Like so many things in politics, when it comes to style it's best to play it safe.

"Obviously, they need to be neat, clean and pressed," said Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom. "And that's out of respect to the institution that we serve."

As Rules Committee chair, Dahlstrom sets the dress code for the state House of Representatives. But she does allow an exception -- a Friday tradition you'll only find in Alaska.

"It is the most comfortable thing ever, especially at the end of session when we're here late into the night," said Rep. Lindsey Holmes. "I got a T-shirt on under this."

Advertisement

"You can put it on and not worry and it's fun," said Rep. Beth Kerttula. "I encourage everybody to get a kuspuk -- I mean, if you live in Alaska, you should have a kuspuk."

The Yup'ik shirts are worn by both men and women throughout rural Alaska. A hood keeps out the elements, and the big pockets are perfect for -- well, a Blackberry.

"This is our way of saying we're so proud to be an Alaskan," said Sen. Linda Menard.

Kuspuks were once made out of sugar and flour sacks. These days, all you need are a few yards of fabric.

Paula Savikko and her second-grade class at nearby Gastineau Elementary School demonstrate how to make them. First they tear the pieces, then they sew everything together.

"Especially when you bring cultural arts into the classroom, they just start understanding society and people, and it's just really fun for them," Savikko said.

So why kuspuks, and why are they just now getting popular? Well it all started just a few years ago with a promise.

Former Rep. Mary Nelson of Bethel and her aide, Katie Rehl, wore kuspuks frequently, almost always on Fridays.

Rehl had just finished working her second legislative session, when she came down with a staph infection and passed away.

"I promised Mary that in her absence, I would be sure that at least I would keep wearing a kuspuk every Friday to keep the tradition alive," Holmes said.

"It's a tradition already," Kerttula said.

Lawmakers say it's bipartisan proof that sometimes it's OK to make a fashion statement.

One of the rules of kuspuk Friday: no jeans allowed. Anyone with a kuspuk still needs to wear dark pants.

Contact Ted Land at tland@ktuu.com

KTUU.com Articles
|
|
|