Reclaiming the teachings: B.C. man shares the Indigenous art of hide tanning

When people hear the phrase “use your brain,” your mind usually doesn’t go anywhere.

But Vancouver Island Mulla artist Shawn Decaire showed onlookers a sacred and timeless tradition of Indigenous peoples: traditional rawhide brain tanning.

On April 1, in front of a raucous outdoor Campbell River crowd of about 40, De Keir took questions next to his smoker. The smoker is made from an old propane tank and burned cherry wood chips, with a pipe leading to the elk hide in the final stages of preparation.

“My goal is to try and teach to restore some of the teachings that my ancestors used to do in this land,” De Keir said to the crowd huddled under the canopy where the smokers were.

“There are a lot of hunters out there, a lot of providers. There are a lot of sacred animals that we let go. We can take a few simple hides, take the whole hide, clean it and give it to our pets. My dog ​​loves a piece of hide, most Dogs love it.”

Throughout the 90-minute event, onlookers can feel samples of leather such as rabbit, elk and cowhide. When the crowd asked questions, DeKier passed them around.

A practice in Aboriginal traditions and cultures, brain tanning is a rigorous process that involves rubbing the brain tissue of a hunted animal with water into wet hides.

The lotion helps break down the membrane that must be removed. The leather is then softened by holding it against the cables before it is beaten and eventually smoked. The hides are used to make clothing or traditional Aboriginal toys or drums. The drums that De Kair played at the start of his speech were put together on Friday.

“The drum that I just sang that song on, was just a piece of rawhide yesterday,” DeKel said. “I just tied that drum yesterday and now I can share it.”

The event is organized by Campbell River Art Gallery as part of the Mu’la exhibition curated by Nadine Bariteau. The exhibition runs until April 29.

Edward Higgins
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Campbell River Aboriginal Cultural Group Indigenous Peoples

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