After 14 days of scraping, stretching and collective hard work, an air of completion could be felt in Paradise Valley following the first local workshop on moose hide tanning.
From May 21 to June 7, up to 12 people participated in the workshop instructed by Kathy Mouse, who was 14 years old when she learned the art from her grandmother.
The small group tanned six hides altogether, including one musk ox hide. At the end of day on June 7, the skins were hung inside a plastic teepee for smoking, with permission from the Town of Hay River because of a fire ban.
“It takes a lot of time and a lot of work,” said Mouse. “You just have to be patient.”
All the hides were fleshed using traditional curved ulu-like tools – an arduous process that’s hard on the shoulders, according to participants. Then the hides were stretched on frames built to size, and tied taut to thin out the hides and prepare them for smoking.
They were smoked with light, close-to-rotting wood chips in order to get their colour.
Mouse untied the hides from the wooden structures and plopped each skin down, like a heavy quilt, onto a plastic tarp in the sunshine. They were no longer stiff as they were immediately after being stretched.
“Maybe we did something right,” laughed Mouse. “They aren’t finished tanning yet. People will have to return and we can finish smoking the hides on Sunday.”
They needed to be hung up again because the hides weren’t yet fully immersed in the wood smoke that gives them their tanned colour. That is necessary in order to make authentic crafts, such as moccasins and mitts.
Participant Shirley Digout said she can make many things out of one hide, from key chains and lighter holders to mukluks and mitts.
“It usually costs me between $1,500 and $2,000 to get a moose hide,” Digout noted.