Northern tanning camp takes over downtown Yellowknife

The smell of fire and the sound of scraping hide is back in Somba K’e park.

It’s the fourth annual Urban Hide Tanning Camp in downtown Yellowknife hosted by Dene Nahjo, a local Indigenous not-for-profit.

Shirley Drybones from Behchokǫ̀ grew up watching her mother work on hides in the summer.

“It is natural I know what I’m doing. I don’t really need to ask,” Drybones said.

Now she is handling a caribou hide, something she hasn’t done in years.

“It is a different type of job with variety. Taking the hair off, taking the skin off, trying to make it smooth, dye it, tan it,” she said.

“It’s a lot of work.”

For ten days each year the camp sets up shop, bringing together community members to witness and learn skills from elders and master tanners.

According to participants it’s a long process that pays off.

“I want to get it done. Get all of this off and get it done,” Drybones laughs as she readjusts her hide and sharpens her scraper.

For Stephanie Poole of Łutselkʼe said she goes to any and all hide camps she’s invited to.

“I enjoy spending time with other hide tanners and just have time away from other responsibilities to work on hides together is really fun,” Poole said.

She practices her Dene tradition as a way of exercising her sovereignty.

“It’s also really important for me to keep our relationship with the land, the water and all the animals in our territory. I think that’s part of our responsibility as Dene and Indigenous people,” she said.

Each day the camp tours two classrooms of kids. Poole shares her expertise with Indigenous and non-Indigenous guests.

“I like hosting all the school kids here. They will often bring their families back after hours or on the weekends,” Poole said.

The camp runs until May 21, 2019. Dene Nahjo will also offer a new mentorship hide tanning camp in  Whatì June 24 – July 5.

Video Journalist / Yellowknife

Charlotte joined APTN in January 2017 as a video journalist in Yellowknife, N.W.T.. Before coming to APTN she interned at CTV Lethbridge, earned her BA in feminist research from Western University and her obtained post-graduate in journalism at Humber College.