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Athabascan Moosehide Tanning & Sewing videos

Older generations of Alaska Athabascan (Dene) peoples tanned moose hides using time-tested methods to make strong, supple leather for sewing beaded or quill-embroidered tunics, jackets, mittens, bags and moccasins, as well as everyday essentials such as dogsled harnesses. Because traditional tanning is time-consuming and requires technical knowledge that has declined in recent generations, most moose hides are now sent out to commercial tanneries for processing with synthetic chemicals. Commercial tanning produces a lower quality hide, but more importantly, it displaces the passing on of Athabascan tanning knowledge. Recognizing this, contemporary artists Joel Isaak (Dena'ina Athabascan) and Melissa Shaginoff (Ahtna Athabascan) have been learning traditional methods for tanning moose hides from elders Helen Dick (Dena’ina Athabascan) and Jeanie Maxim (Ahtna Athabascan) and adding tested, contemporary tools. 

The Alaska office of the Arctic Studies Center worked with these committed artists and elders from September 2017 through June 2018 to carry out moosehide tanning work in communities and backyards in Kenai, Chickaloon, and Anchorage, and a sewing and beading residency at the Anchorage Museum. The collaboration resulted in the set of twenty-three educational videos presented here. Links to a selection of Athabascan objects from the Smithsonian collections made from moose hide are included below.

Tags: Alaska, Native art, museum, education, Indigenous, tan, tanning, moosehide, moose hide, smoking, sew, bead, Athabascan, Dena'ina, Ahtna, Dene, Melissa Shaginoff, Joel Isaak , Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Softening Moose Hide

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska

Athabascan Moosehide Tanning & Sewing: Introduction (1 of 23)

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska

Athabascan Moosehide Tanning & Sewing (6 of 23): Tools

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska

Tunic

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

Chief's coat

National Museum of the American Indian

Toboggan bag

National Museum of the American Indian

Mittens

National Museum of the American Indian

Gloves

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

Moccasins

National Museum of the American Indian

Dog harness

National Museum of the American Indian