Teaching the traditional way of tanning hides on M'Chigeeng First Nation

Tanning in the traditional way is not for the faint of heart. 

It takes twelve days to scrape, soak, ring out and smoke moose and deer hides to get them to them ready, Clyde Migwans of M’Chigeeng First Nation says.

He says he didn’t grow up tanning hides. He learned about ten years ago by talking to his brother who lives up north, mostly over the phone he chuckles. 

He says it is important to him to learn the old ways.

Clyde Migwans show’s visitors from the Netherlands how to ring out the hides that have been scraped and soaked in order to soften them. 0:26

“I think everything is coming back. And there’s also people that say ‘I always wanted to do that stuff’. I get a good feeling, thinking about the traditional natives, it’s slowly coming back, we always wonder what it was like back then,” he said.

Migwans say learning these skills is also important because in day school they were controlled but doing this shows that in their own way they can do anything.

He says some community members are surprised to see him doing it. “One woman said to me ‘You do this stuff? I thought this was lost.'”

He says it does take a long time to do it in the traditional fashion. 

“We scrape them with a poll and draw knife, both sides, flesh side and the fur side and we soak them for four days,” he said.

“After you soften the rawhide as much as you can then you put it in the smoker here for a couple of hours, and the smoke gives it colour and it tightens up the pours and makes it stronger and also waterproof.”

Migwans says he will use the hides for everything from moccasins to drum skins. 

“My brother explained that the quality and the strength of this hide versus hides that have done through a factory, it’s a lot stronger.”

He’s already made hides for his two children’s hand drums and hopes this time around he can put two aside, one for his wife and one for himself.

Clyde Migwans says after you soften the rawhide, you put it in the smokers to give it colour and to tighten up the pours to make it stronger and waterproof. (Jan Lakes/CBC)

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