Why this woman moved nearly 10 hours from her home to learn the art of moose hide tanning

Marjorie Black has been a Tłı̨chǫ​​​​​​​ speaker her whole life and knows how to live on the land where she lives in Northwest Territories. And now, she’s taken up the laborious craft of moose hide tanning.

'It's a dying art,' says Ken Schaefer

Moose hide tanning is a lot of work and a 'dying art,' says Ken Schaefer. (Submitted by Marjorie Black)

Marjorie Black has been a Tłı̨chǫ speaker her whole life and knows how to live on the land.

And now, she's taken up the laborious craft of moose hide tanning — a skill she had to temporarily move to Fort Smith from Behchokǫ̀, N.W.T., so she could learn from her father in law, Ken Schaefer.

She says in her tradition, when people die, they aren't buried in sneakers or store bought shoes — but in moccasins.

"I thought about it and I thought to myself I need to learn these things so I can pass on our traditions to my children or my generation," she said.

She learns on the Schaefers' schedule. If they have time for her, she says they'll call or send a text and she'll meet with them to keep at it.

Ken has been tanning moose hides for close to 30 years and the process is a lot of work, he says.

Once you start you can't stop the project, or else "you're done," he added.

"If you're lazy ... the best thing is to not even try to start, because you'll never finish it," Ken said.

A moose hide being processed. Marjorie Black went to Fort Smith to learn how to tan moose hide from her father in law. (Submitted by Marjorie Black)

But it is important that the next generation does learn it, he says.

"It's a dying art. Nobody does it anymore. All the old timers that used to do it — they're all gone now," he said.

"There's nobody left that would train the younger generation. That's why I keep doing what I was taught."

He says his wife, Mary Schaefer, sews much of the hide that he tans.

For Black, some of her projects are personal.

The hide she's working on next is from a moose her brother shot last year on Mother's Day. Her mom wants to make mittens for her brother with the hide.

And as for herself, she says, she wouldn't mind owning a pair of moccasins.

"I never owned one before," she said.

Black has three hides she needs to tan and expects to be there for another week.

She says she'll even get her grandchildren involved.

"Even if it's to just get a small pail of water," Black said, referring to the process for tanning the hide. "It's a big help."

With files from Jared Monkman