Dene Nahjo Hide Tanning Mentorship and Wellness
Principal Investigator: Starblanket, Gina (1)
Licence Number: 16863
Organization: University of Victoria
Licensed Year(s): 2021
Issued: Jul 19, 2021
Project Team: Mandee McDonald, Chelsea Gabel,

Objective(s): To explore the ways in which hide tanning impacts health and wellness at the individual and community levels by engaging first person, experiential knowledge, to be compiled into data that is useful for northern communities and beyond.

Project Description: This licence has been issued for the scientific research application No.5030.

The objectives of this research are:
1) to explore the ways in which hide tanning impacts health and wellness at the individual and community levels by engaging first person, experiential knowledge, to be compiled into data that is useful for northern communities and beyond;
2) to gather general insights into the relationship between cultural revitalization, land-based education, and wellness, and surrounding the ways in which data on wellness can be used to inform public policy; and,
3) to contribute to the critical dialogue surrounding both land-based program assessment and evaluation in the Northwest Territories and beyond.

This project combines qualitative research methods, visual research methods, and Indigenous research methods. The methodology for the proposed research has been co-created by the research team through careful consideration of the forms of knowledge expression that would be most useful for the collective and most accessible to the community. Dene Nahjo identified the research objectives that would directly meet their needs, and proposed methods that would be appropriate for the land-based context and relatively small, personal scale of the hide tanning camp.

The research will commence following the completion of the two-week hide-tanning camp. The research assistant (RA), Mandee McDonald will participate in the launch of the hide tanning camp in the Dehcho. She will be present during the entire hide tanning camp, and will also lead the primary and secondary research efforts following the completion of the camp. The Principal Investigator (PI) and Dr. Gabel will provide guidance to the RA from a distance due to Covid-19. Due to current Covid-19-related travel restrictions in the NWT each component of this research will be informed by local protocols in order to ensure respectful forms of inquiry and presentation of knowledge. The RA is also involved in organizing the camp as one of Dene Nahjo's hide tanning instructors. She is familiar with local protocols of the Dehcho Region.

The core program team will include 5 Dene Nahjo apprentices, 3 Dene Nahjo hide tanning instructors, and 2 Dehcho Dene Master Hide Tanners/Elders. Additionally, there will be up to 14 participants from the Dehcho region, 1 Camp Attendant, and 1 Cook. Opening ceremonies will be held to in accordance with the direction given by Dehcho First Nations and current Covid-19 safety protocols, and will entail opening prayers, songs by a local drum group, and opening remarks from Dene Nahjo.

The research team will also hold a community feast in the host community in order to express appreciation for their willingness to host the camp in their territories. The Hide Tanning Masters will teach the participants Dene methods for tanning moose hide from start to finish. The Dene Nahjo Hide Tanning Instructors, who have 4-10 years of hide tanning teaching experience, will learn from and work with the Master Elders to facilitate a safe, culturally-grounded, and supportive experience. The group will work together on up to 5 moose hides, harvest the natural materials required, and learn and follow Dene cultural and spiritual protocols around hide tanning. While the hide tanning camp will be held through a mentorship format, members of the community and region will be welcome and encouraged to participate as well pending current Covid-19 safety protocols. In total, there will be about 12-30 participants of the hide tanning camp pending Covid-19 safety protocols. These participants will be invited to participate in the research, but it will be made clear that participation in the camp does not necessitate participation in the research.

Primary research will be conducted following the completion of the hide-tanning camp through a mixed-methods quantitative approach to assess participant experiences and reflections on the program, both short and medium term. These will begin with an in-person, open-ended group dialogue with the hide tanning instructors and program participants. Dene translators will be available at both of the group dialogue sessions. The research team will include up to 10 of the camp participants in this session. The team will also hold a follow-up dialogue session in winter 2021, three months after the completion of the hide-tanning program, to dialogue with the hide tanning instructors and program participants about their experience in the program and the impacts that it had on their lives following its completion. The team will include 10 of the camp participants in this session. Participants will also be asked to participate in follow-up surveys 6 months after the completion of the program in order to gauge the medium-term impacts of the program. A link to the survey questions will be circulated via an email and respondents will submit their responses electronically to the research team. The team will invite the participants from the previous two dialogue sessions. Additionally, in the interest of producing more accessible expressions of knowledge and experience, the hide tanning process will be documented in the form of a photo essay accompanying the written final community report as per Dene Nahjo's request. A professional photographer will visit the camp to document the hide tanning process, with the intent of offering insights into mentorship, hide-tanning, and relationship-building from multiple dimensions. These will ultimately be compiled into a photo essay that will contribute to broader forms of knowledge mobilization. The photographer will be a Dene person with extensive experience working with Dene peoples and communities on Dene lands. Dene Nahjo will provide media consent forms to the hide tanning participants, and the photographer will be informed of who has consented. Dene Nahjo will own the photographs, and will share edited photographs with the participants. Dene Nahjo regularly hires Indigenous photographers to document their programs.

Dene Nahjo has been in regular communications with Dehcho First Nation for nearly two years about this project. The Camp was originally scheduled for summer 2020, but had to be postponed due to Covid-19. Dene Nahjo is meeting with Dehcho First Nation and Líídli Kúé First Nation (June 10, 2021) again to further discuss the details of the camp and research component.

Participants of the hide camp will be invited to participate in the research component of the project. Participation in the camp does not require participation in the research. Scripts will be available for camp participants so they can make an informed choice about participating in the research. Dene Nahjo will prepare a community report with a summary of the research findings for Dehcho First Nation and Líídli Kúé First Nation, which they can share however they see fit.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from July 19, 2021 to December 31, 2021.