HIDE CAMP: Unlike
past generations, I was raised not to feel ashamed of being
Anishinaabe. Now, I’m learning what my mother and grandmother couldn’t.
I asked my dad to skin me a deer.
For as long as I can remember, my father, uncles and grandfather — who immigrated to Canada from Italy 55 years ago — have spent weeks away hunting moose, deer, turkey, rabbits, and if you consider fishing hunting, they do that, too.
I’ve thought about joining them on hunts for years — heading to Bass Pro to deck myself out in hunting gear, sitting with them in tree stands in the bush and scoping out a deer or moose to bring back to my grandfather’s house to process after a week or so of outdoor living in their trailer. Usually, the hides would be chopped into bits and discarded in the compost while they masterfully sliced the meat into different cuts.
But as someone who is not keen on sharing close quarters with men in the trailer, and whose understanding of Italian is dismal, I’m starting another tradition this year: I asked them to save me the skins to transform into usable leather — something long practised by generations of my mother’s side of the family who are Anishinaabe.
I gave them specific instructions to remove as much of the flesh as they could, and to save me the brain and legs — the brain to soften the hide, the legs to make tools with if my experience permits.
In May, I spent a week at Niizh Manidook Hide Camp — a Two Spirit hide-tanning camp in aptly-named ‘Bucktown,’ or Delaware Nation at Moraviantown in southwestern Ontario. The goal was to learn and reclaim traditional hide-tanning techniques lost in my family through the ‘60s Scoop and residential schools.
I grew up and continue to live two hours from my community of Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, and as the first generation in my immediate family not to be raised to feel ashamed of being Anishinaabe, the importance of reclaiming these practices is not lost on me.
I wouldn’t have known about the camp had it not been for my friend Kierstin Williams, an Anishinaabekwe herself from Garden River First Nation and Batchewana First Nation, up north in Sault Ste. Marie — “Moose Country,” as a mug in her apartment refers to it.
“Want to go to a camp to tan hides?” she asked me earlier this spring. “I’m in,” I replied, still unsure of what a hide camp actually entailed, but I was excited to learn once we got there.
I packed camping gear, drawing inspiration from my dad’s pre-hunt shops, picking up a fisherman’s hat from Canadian Tire just in case. And while I didn’t make that trip to Bass Pro, I did make one to Walmart’s men’s section to stockpile T-shirts I wouldn’t mind ruining.
As I prepared for the trip, I was filled with self-doubt. I feared I wouldn’t belong amongst the group and questioned why the hosts, Beze Gray and Hunter Cassag, both experienced hide-tanners, artists and advocates — with Gray being one of a group suing the provincial government over climate change — approved my application.
“Surely they didn’t mean to accept me,” I thought.
Really, it was a projection of me not always accepting myself.