August 4-12, Liidlii Kue, Dehcho
A brief history of how and why I got involved in this project:
Just about 12 and half years ago Melaw and her mom “new granny” came down to Eugene, Oregon to await the birth of the first grandchild/nephew, K’a’. They brought with them their sewing and graciously tried to show me how to bead a pair of slippers for K’a’. I failed miserably on that pair, did not even get the bead work done. 2 years later when we moved home to the north, and I was home with K’a’, “old” Granny decided to teach me how to do it properly. She made me re-stich bead work, “Eschia! After every bead my girl!” She patiently watched as I SLOWLY assembled my first pair (that she drew and cut out for me) only to snatch it up half way through my first one and finish both in lightening speed. I was so proud to finish my first pair by myself and bring it to her (she took them apart and made me do it again :).
I was so inspired by Melaw’s quest to pick up what she knew from her memories of her Granny and her mom and tan a complete hide by herself, and to provide herself with materials to work with that I couldn’t wait to help out, not just to satisfy my own interest (and need for moose hide), but for the opportunity for all of our kids to watch and the chance to be able to learn enough to pass on a piece of “Old” Granny and “New” Granny to the future. It is for the same reasons I butter my kids noses on their birthdays, cook large meals regardless of how many people are home, clean my house really well just before and just after I take a vacation, or spend time in the garden (regardless of skill). To pass on the traditions I remember most as a kid, no matter how large or small, to my kids, and in the process create our own.
I travel to Blachford Lake Lodge for Dechinta with Melaw and our kids. I am there to do whatever she needs, from watching the kids to helping with hides.
Our sister bond is tested (and strengthened) as she jumps from student to teacher and I learn how much hard work really goes into tanning hides and wrangling kids amid the pull of super interesting discussions and the chaos of the royal visit.
hide work done : twisting and scraping the hides with stones, a log peeling tool, and dull ulus. Removing hair from a rotting hide by literally washing it off, cutting and stringing up a hide on a frame, fleshing hide and doing whatever we could to lesson the smell of said rotting hide in time for royal visit. We accomplished the latter by using LOTS of spruce boughs around the hide and washing it with Melaw’s body wash. BTW the Duchess touched the stinky hide and we all laughed about it later as we knew that smell would not come off easy!
Dome smoked and flat smoked various hides.
I fell asleep late everyday and woke up early with my hands cramped in scraping position.
Drove to Liidlii Kue to help Melaw on her new hide project.
Hide work done: cut the hair off a hide our dad and brother got last fall. Melaw already had the hide on the frame and had done the fleshing. We scraped A LOT. I helped her build (i.e. I held, she nailed and constructed) a post so she could begin fleshing a new hide. As I was driving out of town the day she started fleshing, I did not help out with as I was not driving alone and the rest of my family would not have appreciated the smell all 7 hours home.
LOVED when the kids came over to check things out. Minsis (our niece, age 4) proved to be the most interested in helping out.
back to Lidlii Kue to continue helping out.
Hide work done: flat smoked the “royal” hide. This means the hair and flesh had been removed and the hide had dried out on the frame and was able to be put away until ready for smoking, it could also have been through the punching, twisting and softening stage, so long as the hide is dry when you put it away.
We “punched out” the hide our dad and brother got. This means we soaked the hide in a mixture of brains, soap and rainwater overnight and then hung on a post and used a bone tool to punch the hide to loosen the really thick sections (one day). This hide had been through this process with Melaw in Trout Lake, so it was getting really soft. Once we punched it we hung it up and spent the next 3 days softening with dull scrapers (so as not to damage the hide) and stretching it. By day two we recruited my twin sister to help and by day three Melaw’s friend Chris. Minsis came over to help us again too, mostly by bringing her cuteness and questions about all the tools and what they do and by observing, which is so important. The rain forced us into the basement one day to do this by the wood stove. Once it was totally dry, we were really hoping that we would be able to bring it to the final smoking stage. After much deliberation, and admiring of the softness of the hide, Melaw wisely decided to hold off and consult an elder. My guess is that it probably will need one more soaking, punching, twisting, softening to be perfect. It is going to be a beautiful hide.
We soaked and (Melaw punched out) the “holey” hide. This was one of the hides started at Dechinta and worked on by many students in the Sahtu style. We hung and started to soften this hide as well. This one will take more soaking, punching, and softening, probably a lot more. The hard thing about this hide is that since so many people were learning on this hide, and since it was scraped and fleshed on a post with a knife (Sahtu style), there are a lot of holes and the thickness varies a lot. As frustrating as that is, it is also great for a novice like me to see two such different hides at the same stages. I really got a grasp of what the hide should look like, feel like and how various tools will effect the results.
It has been really interesting to see Melaw learn new techniques as she has traveled with her hides to different regions and incorporate them into her work. The most inspiring thing about this project for me though has been seeing the sparks of inspiration she has been lighting along they way. Many students from her time at Dechinta have at their own, often great, expense, made the trip to join Melaw along her journey with the hides. In my time in Lidlli Kue, family and friends have come out to see what she is doing and to ask questions, check on progress, or get inspired to start their own hides again.
Just before I left to see Melaw, Tania Larsson, who had helped Melaw in Trout Lake and at Dechinta, had just returned from Lutselk’e with her first finished hide on her way to start school at the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, NM. It smelled and felt amazing and now Tania has the material she needs for school this year! I am really looking forward to the next time we get to work on a hide together!