Project: Tanana Chief Conference Cultural Programs
Grantee: Tanana Chief Conference
Story and photos from: Cindy Schumaker

Keeping Traditions Alive: Skin Tanning Workshop

There was a time when families in Koyukuk made a living trapping, skinning and selling wolf, beaver, marten, and muskrat hides. According to tribal administrator Loretta Lolnitz, many youth today have never seen a stretched pelt. Until recently that is. In May, children in Koyukuk had their eyes opened to raw hide stretching thanks to a four-day Cultural Traditions workshop funded by Tanana Chiefs Conference and The CIRI Foundation. Wolf, marten, and beaver furs were purchased from local trappers, and the rest of the skinning, stretching and tanning became a learning process for the community.

“We’ve exposed youth to the way many of our Elders made their living,” said Lolnitz. “We’ve bridged that gap.”

Experienced elders and trappers Dewain Dayton, Dale Kriska, Percy Lolnitz, Robert William Pilot and Benedict Jones led the teaching for more than 20 Koyukuk youth and adults. Eliza Jones told stories to teach respect for and care of the animals. Participant Percy Lolnitz said he felt like the workshop was an awakening of skills. “It reminded me of when I was a kid and watched the elders work on their catch,” said Lolnitz. “We must keep this way of life going.”

As is traditional with Alaska Native hunters, the entire animal is used. The meat of the beaver is delicacy served first to Elders. The hides and fur become parkas, or trim for vests, gloves and slippers. The bones and claws become embellishments for clothes or jewelry. Nothing is wasted.

Beaded Glove Workshop in the Village of Ruby

The village of Ruby just got a bit more beautiful thanks to a workshop taught by Lena McCarty. In a series of nine classes in January and February, Lena patiently mentored 14 adult and youth students to make their own beaded gloves. Workshop organizer Victoria Honea said it was the first workshop like this in a long time, and they are anxious to do more in the future. The Beaded Glove workshop was a partnership between Tanana Chiefs ConferenceThe CIRI Foundation, and the Ruby Native Council in an effort to pass along traditional skills to a future generation, reclaim heritage, and share stories and laughter around the beading table!

Cowhide Moccasin Workshop in the Village of Nikolai

Every child in Nikolai is getting a new pair of cowhide moccasins! Master artist and skin sewer Oline Petruska is teaching all the students at the Top of the Kuskokwim School in Nikolai to make their own. Teachers, parents, and Elders are helping, and are making a few more pairs for Nikolai’s younger kids so no child will be left out. Workshop organizer Balassa Alexie said “Asking the parents to come in to help has been an added bonus because we’re getting families to do something traditional together.”

The cowhide moccasin workshop is funded through a partnership between Tanana Chiefs Conference Cultural Program Department, The CIRI Foundation, and Nikolai Edzeno’ Tribal Council. How neat is that!