The tents are up, moose hides are soaking and Dene women are preparing their tools to start scrapping in Yellowknife.
Gwich’in artist Karen Wright Fraser explains the difference between commercially tanned hides and the ones being prepared at this week’s camp.
“When they scrape they break all the fibres within the moose hide. When you’re sewing with moose hide it goes through just like butter, it’s so beautiful. But, a commercial tanned hide they’re use chemicals that don’t break the fibers and you break needles, and it’s just awful,” Wright-Fraser told CKLB on Tuesday.
Dene Nahjo founder Melaw Nakehk’o says becoming a tanner she had to learn from the elders, and put the pen and paper down. She explains becoming a tanner has been part of her decolonization journey.
“Despite doing it like physically, with your hands and working you know what it feels like. How hard you need to work it, and that’s when I understood I had to learn and think more in a Dene way, to learn how to do this process. That was a huge experience for myself,” Nakehk’o told reporters at the opening of camp.
Nakehk’o inherited her tools from her grandmother, the late Judith Buggins. But, co-founder and now hide tool maker Tania Larsson regained this cultural practice and knowledge during the foundation of Dene Nahjo.
“That kind of knowledge is very precious and I’m always grateful for it because I didn’t have that given to me, so there’s always a way to gain the knowledge, by finding my community,” said Larsson.
Cheyanna Fraser has been holding onto a frozen hide for two years. Her mother Karen hopes to re-learn tanning from her.
“Someday she’s going to teach me. So there’s a role reversal. Because in my lifetime I’ve never had an opportunity to learn how to tan hides. You need to take out a good two weeks out of your life to learn how to do this. And in this day in age you have to work to make a living and it’s really hard to take that time out. The timing hasnt been right for me, so I’m really glad that she’s doing it,” added Wright-Fraser.
The Urban Hide Camp runs until September 15th at SombaKe Park.