Tan­ning camp keeps Canada’s in­dige­nous her­itage alive

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Smoked cari­bou and bi­son skins are strewn over old pine logs among the teepees at a tan­ning camp in Yel­lowknife, north­ern Canada, where in­dige­nous youth are pre­serv­ing their her­itage by learn­ing an­ces­tral skills.

“Ba­si­cally any­where where there is an an­i­mal, you need to learn how to tan its hide for clothes or shel­ter, or things like that,” says Mandee McDon­ald, the twenty-some­thing co-founder of the Dene Nahjo com­mu­nity group. “Strong, re­silient, in­dige­nous.” The three words printed on the front of her black t-shirt rep­re­sent for the young woman pride in her com­mu­nity and its cus­toms, which are un­der threat. “Our an­ces­tors-even some of our grand­moth­ers, and great grand­moth­ers-knew this prac­tice very well, but colo­nial­ism... re­ally cre­ated a barrier to in­ter­gen­er­a­tional knowl­edge ac­qui­si­tion,” she ex­plains.

Pop­u­lar­iz­ing tan­ning among Dene youth helps to keep those tra­di­tions alive. Last sum­mer, the tan­ning camp with its teepees, pic­nic ta­bles and log frames to af­fix an­i­mal hides was set up on the shores of Frame Lake, a stone’s throw from Yel­lowknife city hall and the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries’ leg­isla­tive assem­bly. The Dene used to fish in the lake, but it has be­come con­tam­i­nated by nearby gold mine tail­ings.

Push­ing back against colo­nial­ism

For mem­bers of the Dene Nahjo, which was cre­ated to ad­vance so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice for north­ern peo­ples, fos­ter in­dige­nous lead­ers and lobby Ot­tawa on pol­icy mat­ters, the camp rep­re­sents an act of de­fi­ance against colo­nial­ism. Sev­eral tat­tooed youths, some with sil­ver face pierc­ings and feather ear­rings, re­call how fam­ily mem­bers had been forced to at­tend board­ing schools hun­dreds of kilo­me­ters away, and were stripped of their lan­guage and cus­toms in an ef­fort to in­te­grate them into so­ci­ety.

Each tanned skin, they say, helps to erase more than a cen­tury of abuses at the schools run by Chris­tian churches on be­half of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. Out­side a teepee, el­ders scrape hairs off a moose hide laid out on a big blue plas­tic tarp. Ev­ery stroke is me­thod­i­cal and timed. The hair will later be used to dec­o­rate bas­kets made of birch bark. In most North Amer­i­can in­dige­nous cul­tures all parts of a hunted or trapped an­i­mal must be used.

For Ta­nia Lars­son, an­other co-founder of the group who has mixed Gwich’in and Swedish an­ces­try and grew up at the foot of the French Alps, prod­ding el­ders for ad­vice can be in­tim­i­dat­ing. “You can’t just walk up and say ‘Hey, teach me your cul­ture,’” ex­plains the young artist.

“Tan­ning an­i­mal skins is not just about learn­ing a skill, it’s about con­nect­ing with your her­itage, it’s about go­ing into the wilds, col­lect­ing wood and moss, ev­ery­thing you need pro­vided by na­ture,” she says. Work­ing the hides along­side your el­ders and peers also helps to build re­la­tion­ships with them, she adds.

Share cul­ture and knowl­edge

The Dene Nahjo’s aim is to share their cul­tural knowl­edge with as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble, not just abo­rig­i­nals, but also school groups and jet­lin­ers full of Asian tourists who come for the Aurora Bo­re­alis. Yel­lowknife res­i­dent Jen­nifer Skel­ton is grate­ful for the in­struc­tion as her hus­band re­cently came back from a hunt­ing trip with a moose, and she wasn’t sure what to do with it. “I think it’s great that they set up here and pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for any­one to learn how to work the hides,” she said.

The small, tightknit Dene Nahjo group re­ceives sup­port from lo­cal abo­rig­i­nal lead­ers, but ac­cord­ing to Ta­nia’s sis­ter Nina Lars­son it’s the dy­namism of its young founders that drives mem­bers. “There’s no hi­er­ar­chy, we are all equal,” she said. “Mak­ing de­ci­sions (by con­sen­sus) can take a bit longer, but we all grow to­gether and have be­come closer,” she says. — AFP

Dene Nahjo’s aim is to share their cul­tural knowl­edge

Peo­ple stand in a Dene Nahjo camp, open to the pub­lic, at Somba K’e Park, near Frame lake and a play­ground for kids at the ur­ban hide tan­ning camp.

Ta­nia Lars­son, co found­ing mem­ber of Dene Nahjo and moose­hide tan­ning in­struc­tor, ties a moose skin to a wooden pole in Yel­lowknife. — AFP pho­tos

Mea­gan Wohlberg and Melaw Nakehk’o flesh a moose hide with moose leg bones at the ur­ban hide tan­ning camp or­ga­nized by Dene Nahjo.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.