“If we don’t exercise our rights, then they won’t be there for us.”
When JD Wysote isn’t fishing snow crab for the Listuguj Mi’gmaq Government, he can often be found hunting, trapping, and tanning animal hides.
He started tanning hides around three years ago when he realized that he wanted to utilize everything when it came to hunting. After hunting or trapping an animal, he would use the meat and the skull but realized the hide could also be utilized. Wysote would eventually like to use the hides to make clothing and said, “It is the next step from hunting. You know where your food comes from, and next is knowing where your clothes come from.” One of the main reasons for picking up this hobby is to exercise his rights as a Mi’gmaq person. He said, “If we don’t exercise our rights, then they won’t be there for us.” While there are not many people in the community who tan hides, Wysote said he has talked to the few who do for guidance and advice.
The process of tanning hides is very time-consuming and detailed. The process differs for the type of animal and depends on if you want to keep the fur on. It also depends on the time of year and the season. Typically, in the winter, animals will have thicker fur. Winter pelt on animals will also dry lighter in color than an animal with a summer coat. Wysote talked about the process of tanning a beaver hide, “If you want to keep the fur on for beavers you don’t have to worry about shaving all the hair down, half the work is already done. You do got to skin the animal, then you got to flush it all out, get all that fat and meat off of it, until it’s just the skin itself. Then you got to dry it out, pickle it, then the final process to make it waterproof and durable is to smoke it, multiple times.” Eventually, a preservative will be added to the hide when the process is done. Some of the animal hides that Wysote has in his possession that he has worked on include, moose, beavers, and bucks.
Tanning hide is a very long process. It’s a hobby that requires a lot of time and patience, especially if it’s just one person doing the work. Wysote said, “Traditionally what hide work was, it was a family chore. The family got together, the men went out to hunt it and the women got together and work on the hides. It was a family activity.” His family also partake in the process, with his oldest daughter helping him set and check traps. He hopes his growing family will continue to accompany him with his hobby and fully embrace their Mi’gmaq culture.
By Ann Marie Jacques
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