During the month of April, students at ABMHS continued the process of traditionally tanning beaver hides. During the first semester, students in Rita Gould’s Mi’kmaq Studies course thinned, pickled, oiled, and sanded smooth two kopit hides, with the intention of making hats.
The last step in this process, prior to actually sewing them into hats, is to “smoke” the hides in wood smoke. Enclosed in a tent, the hides are propped over smouldering, semi-rotted wood for several hours. The smoke from the wood contains wood resins and formaldehyde, which penetrate the skin and permanently, chemically change it. The collagen fibers in the skin, which would normally form a glue-like substance if they got wet, become stable in the presence of the resin and formaldehyde, so the hide can be wetted and washed and still remain supple. What an amazing example of traditional knowledge of chemistry!
Community member Blair “Joef” Bernard provided the tent, and the wood, and we used a hot plate from the school’s chemistry lab to heat the wood to the smoking point. This traditional tanning method costs basically nothing, and produces beautiful, functional leather.
The two beavers were not simply killed for their fur. One was trapped, and its meat utilized, and the other was an accidental road kill which was salvaged.