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Support needed for traditional arts
Editorial Comment - Deh Cho Drum

A variety of beautiful crafts, many of which can be classified as wearable works of art, are among the products produced in the Deh Cho.

The list of craft types is extensive and includes such things as moosehair tufting, quill work, birchbark baskets, spruce root baskets, beading and anything that can be made with moosehide from moccasins to gloves. Many of these crafts are also made in other parts of the NWT and farther afield, but regional variations means that many are distinct to the Deh Cho and in some cases to the artist who made them.

It's hard to imagine that any of these crafts might some day not be as readily available as they are now. But that day may be coming.

Anyone who has tried to purchase a tanned moosehide has an idea of how this could start. A well tanned hide is a coveted commodity that is hard to come by these days.

Few people tan hides and those who do often keep the finished products for their own use or for family members.

Given the amount of work that goes into tanning a hide, it's no surprise that people aren't eager to give them up, even for a price.

Hides, however, are the basis for many traditional crafts.

If you don't have the hide either you can't make what you intended or you have to substitute in material such as commercially tanned hide, which just isn't the same.

Sambaa K'e Dene Band is taking a step toward preventing the loss of traditional knowledge linked to tanning hides. The First Nation received $15,000 to start a traditional moosehide tanning program from the territorial government's Anti-Poverty Fund. The program's primary purpose is to pass on the knowledge that community elders have about tanning hide to young women in the community.

A recent event in Fort Simpson also gave a boost to traditional artisans. The Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment held two days of arts and fine crafts demonstrations and workshops paired with a farmers' market. The department's goal was to increase the business opportunities for local artists and small businesses looking to sell their products.

Many crafts in the region are produced in the smaller communities and if artists don't have an avenue to sell their creations there is little motivation to continue except in small quantities for personal use.

More programs like the Sambaa K'e Dene Band's initiative and the event in Fort Simpson need to be developed if the region wants to continue to be known for its crafts and have the traditional knowledge related to them sought-after by younger generations.

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