Residency participants came from many Indigenous nations to practise hide tanning and share their knowledge with others. The residency is one of several the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity is offering in Indigenous arts. (Nelly Alberola/Radio-Canada) Students are tanning moose hides this month in the mountain town of Banff, Alta., as part of a new program launched to help the traditional Indigenous practice grow.
Sarah Jean Dickie, a master’s of business administration student from northern B.C., said she knew she wanted to develop her tanning skills after hunting a moose with her cousin. She turned to her grandmother to tan the hide.
"I just want to be a part of it, from start to finish," Dickie said.
Learning how to do that is difficult. Traditional hide tanning is seeing a resurgence, but practitioners sometimes have few opportunities to learn from master tanners or share knowledge with others.
As part of a series of residencies to help Indigenous arts thrive, the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity launched its urban moose hide tanning residency on Aug. 28. It runs until Sept. 12 with a dozen students from across Canada and the United States. Sarah Jean Dickie is pursuing her master’s of business administration but for the next few days she will be practising hide tanning. (Nelly Alberola/Radio-Canada) The participants all have tanning experience and will learn from each other and several faculty members, including elders considered master tanners.
The program focuses on teaching two methods of tanning, one with a frame and the other with a knife. There are others, as tanning varies community to community, which are explored as students share their experiences.
"It’s amazing," Dickie said. "There’s so many different teachings here." Moose hide tanning faculty members have set up a camp in Banff, Alta. (Nelly Alberola/Radio-Canada) Tanning a hide is very physically demanding, said faculty member Mandee McDonald, who came to teach at the course from Yellowknife.
The students work on four moose and two deer hides, hunted in the north for the residency. Using handmade tools, they learn, in one method, to scrape and flesh the hides before removing the hair, then drying the hides and covering them in a paste made from the moose’s brain, soap and water. The hides are then smoked for a few days. Sarah Jean Dickie says she’s learning she has more to learn about tanning hides. (Nelly Alberola/Radio-Canada) "When you’re working on a hide, you’re doing it out of respect and reverence for the land and the animals. Then there isn’t really an issue with smells or flesh or hair or bugs or anything like that," McDonald said. "The hide is very heavy, scraping the hide is really repetitive, and it requires a lot of strength and endurance and skill." Years of practice to come, student says
Student Alyssa Gagnon brought her two children, aged eight months and five years, to the Banff Centre as she’s learning to tan moose hide, a tradition she hopes her children will one day continue. Alyssa Gagnon says she hopes to pass on what she learns to her children, and also share her new skill with her mother in Ontario. (Nelly Alberola/Radio-Canada) As a woman from Taykwa Tagamou First Nation in northern Ontario, her family historically tanned moose hide but the practice was lost to more recent generations, including to her mother and grandmother. Her grandfather was a residential school survivor, so many ways of living were lost in her family, she said.
"My grandmother is the only fluent speaker in Cree, so I think it’s important that I bring these things back to my community and I practise this stuff […]
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