Urban hide tanning camp an opportunity to reconnect with culture

Today is the opening of Dene Nahjo’s third Urban Hide Tanning camp at Somba K’e Park.

“We have five wall tents set up right now and a tipi, so they’re for working on the hides because it’s cold,” says Mandee McDonald, Managing Director of Dene Nahjo.

A moosehide. Photo by Meaghan Richens.

“We have a few hides out already, some of our community hides and some hide tanners already showed up with their hides to work on. People are welcome to stop by anytime and see the hide tanning demos or take a little tour of the camp to see how much work goes into tanning a moosehide or a caribou hide,” she says.

Moosehide tanning is just one of several initiatives Dene Nahjo is leading right now she says.

They just finished an urban moosehide tanning residency at the Banff Centre.

“So we just got back Thursday night and then started setting up for this camp,” says McDonald.

A part of the reason the camp is held in downtown Yellowknife is to make an accessible space for people who want to learn about hide tanning, she says.

“So one of the goals of the hide camp is to facilitate an opportunity for Indigenous people who want to re-learn traditional hide tanning,” says McDonald.

“It’s open to everyone of course but the camp is designed for urban Indigenous people in Yellowknife. And it’s an Indigenous-led inclusive space where I hope people feel like they can come and hang out and learn a little bit about hide tanning.”

Right now, there’s a big resurgence of Indigenous people across Canada who want to learn hide tanning she says.

“That’s just one specific cultural or land-based practice, the knowledge of which, the passing of that knowledge was interrupted by colonization and residential schools and things like that. We try to facilitate opportunities for people to relearn cultural and traditional knowledge, relearn skills, reconnect to land and community to basically overcome the disruption imposed by colonization in our ways of life and knowledge that we have.”

There are tons of Indigenous people living in Yellowknife from all over the country, she says.

“And there’s a huge population of Indigenous people on Yellowknives Dene First Nation territory that are not Yellowknives Dene First Nation. We’re just trying to create a space for Indigenous people to come together and feel safe and supported to reconnect to some cultural practices.”

The camp runs daily from Monday to Saturday until September 29.

Hide tanners who plan on bringing their own hide are asked to let organizers know beforehand so they can make sure there are enough supplies.