N.W.T. launches pilot project to increase moosehide supply for artisans

·3 min read
The government of the Northwest Territories hopes that the project will supply more moosehides to northern artists.  (Submitted by Government of the Northwest Territories  - image credit)
The government of the Northwest Territories hopes that the project will supply more moosehides to northern artists. (Submitted by Government of the Northwest Territories - image credit)

The territorial government has launched a moosehide tanning pilot project for N.W.T. artisans who use the material in their work.

According to a recent blog post on the government's website, the project is part of the Hide and Fur Program, which aims to make traditional hide more accessible and affordable for artisans.

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment partnered with International Fur Dressers, a commercial factory in Winnipeg, and purchased six moosehides from the south.

After going through a commercial tanning process at International Fur Dressers, the hides were sent to the N.W.T. to be finished by traditional tanners.

Three traditional tanners in the communities of Fort Good Hope, Fort Simpson, and Łutsel Kʼe will complete the hides this summer.

Creating traditional material with a hybrid method

Johanna Tiemessen, the manager of the N.W.T's arts programming and traditional economy, said that there isn't enough traditional moosehide available in the territory to match the current demand.

She said the shortage is due to traditional harvesters prioritizing moose meat over the hide, and that hides are often gifted to elders in communities instead of sold.

Tiemessen said that N.W.T. artisans currently have to use commercial suppliers to purchase hide "sight unseen and at a very costly price."

"Artisans don't want a commercially tanned hide," she said.

Tiemessen clarified the common differences between commercially and traditionally tanned hides, noting that they usually differ in thickness, suppleness, smell, and colour.

For the pilot project, each traditional tanner has received two types of hides from International Fur Dressers:

  • Type 1: A preserved hide that has been scraped, dehaired, wet pickled and then frozen.

  • Type 2: A commercially tanned hide to be rehydrated and restretched.

The hope is that the project's hybrid method — combining both commercial and traditional tanning techniques — will result in hides that look and feel fully traditional.

"We're optimistic and hopeful that one of the two ways that they're working on these two different hides might be something that creates a traditional material that artisans are interested in working with," said Tiemessen.

'It's really capitalizing on our traditional process'

Melaw Nakehk'o is a traditional moosehide tanner, not involved with the project.

She said that the shipping and commercial factory tanning process means the hides will not be truly traditional.

"When you're tanning a hide traditionally… It's an incredibly clean process. There's no chemicals," said Nakehk'o.

"It's really capitalizing on our traditional process."

"Every part of [the moosehide tanning] process is passed down from every single one of our grandmothers and grandfathers in our community."

Submitted by Melaw Nakehk'o/ GBP Creative photo
Submitted by Melaw Nakehk'o/ GBP Creative photo

Although Nakehk'o said she was interested in hearing about the results of the project, she questioned its necessity.

"I would like to know how much money was spent on this idea, the results, and if those funds would have been better used to support community hide camps," she wrote in a follow-up email.

Tiemessen declined to state any specific numbers regarding the cost of the hides or amount paid to the tanners, but mentioned that using International Fur Traders for commercial tanning was cheaper than paying traditional tanners.

"They have machines to do work, so [the cost was] much more minimal than what traditional tanners would be paid in the communities," she said.

Tiemessen said that she has had discussions with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to determine if using northern moose might be a possibility for the future.

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