From moose to moccasin – Project to teach the art of traditional hide tanning

Kathy Mouse, left, and Sandra Edda scrape a moose hide in Fort Simpson as part of the moosehide tanning workshop that was held during the Open Sky Festival. Mouse will be teaching another moose hide tanning program in Hay River at the end of May.

A group of interested participants will be fleshing, scraping and stretching their way to create a recently withering commodity.

The Hay River Artisan Society (HRAS) is putting the call out to those interested in learning the fine art of traditional moose hide tanning.

The hides are valuable, durable, and labour intensive, but the skill set is invaluable, said society member Franziska Ulbright.

The program will be free to anyone who wishes to sign up.

Traditionally tanned and smoked finished hides, which have increased in value, are difficult to procure and are becoming scarcer.

“In order to do some beadwork, mukluks and tradition arts and crafts, you have to have that leather, and there is a great a shortage of it around here,” she said. “The commercially tanned leather is not as good quality. It’s so much thinner and weaker, so there’s a very practical reason behind this.”

Once participation numbers are determined, the society will seek funding from the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) through its entrepreneurs and economic development program.

The department has previously funded similar programs and supports programs that promote traditional economy, said Lloyd Jones, South Slave superintendent for ITI.

Jones confirmed the supply of traditionally tanned moose hide has dwindled.

The cost of a traditionally tanned hide has increased from between $800-$1,200 to around $1,800 for the labour intensive process.

However, Jones said the money isn’t in finishing the product, but in the fine arts the material is used to create.

“Those who are skilled at tanning the leather are working for a minimum wage,” said Jones. “The NWT economy was pretty busy with development and exploration in past years. When those things slow down people go back to what used to support them. The traditional economy keeps some small communities alive.”

The project will also incorporate storytelling and shared meals.

Course instructor Kathy Mouse, originally from Fort Simpson but now living in Hay River, has been learning and practising the skill since the age of 14.

The program will take place in Paradise Gardens between May 21 and June 6 during evenings and weekends. Although participants will be subject to some heavy work, the project will not go for 14 days straight. Those interested should contact Ulbright or Mouse.

The society has acquired three-plus hides of both moose and muskox, but it is looking for at least two more to be donated.

The HRAS is a small group dedicated to developing and promoting artists and fine arts and crafts, and skill training and development within the community.