Establishing shot: A crowd of Powwow dancers in Heart Butte, MT
Major themes covered: dancing—cleaning deer hide—mask making—rodeo. Young men from the Blackfeet tribe document the activities of their community in Montana. They also document the traditional crafts of their ancestors such as tanning hide.
Native activities shown: Footage captures Blackfeet tribal members dancing and singing at a Powwow. Two Blackfeet youths are filmed in the process of tanning a white-tail deer hide. In the video they are taking the fur off of the skin.
Individuals Named: James Weatherfree, Heart Butte drummers and singers, Emerson Bull Runner
Native language spoken: Blackfoot (Siksika; Algonquian)
This video contains additional footage of the Heart Butte Powwow that is documented in the Blackfeet09 video.
In this video we see two young men removing the fur from a deer hide by hand. Traditionally, it was the women’s responsibility to tan hides in the Blackfeet Tribe, while the men were responsible for hunting, skinning and removing the meat. Women would then take over the tanning process by scraping the remaining flesh and membranes from the hide and washing and soaking the hide in warm water. One of the men in the video states that he soaked the hide in water for about a week before removing the fur. Soaking the hide makes the skin softer, thus making it easier to remove the fur. After the fur is removed from the hide, it will then be brain tanned which requires the use of the animal’s brain. The brain of the animal contains natural oils and acids that make the hide more flexible, durable and manageable. In the video it is mentioned that the brain tanning process should be done after the removal of the fur. The animal’s brains will be mashed and mixed with water creating a tanning solution to rub on the hide. The hide will then be wrapped in the brain solution for about three days. This process is long and tedious, but it is necessary in order to make durable leathers from animal hides. Ultimately the tanning process is employed to maximize the use of available materials.
Modern hunters use special tanning tools and solutions that have replaced the traditional Blackfeet methods for tanning hide. However, the traditional way of tanning hide has been said to be more effective for making soft, durable hides.
Hungry, Wolf B. The Ways of My Grandmothers. New York: Quill, 1982.
Long, Standing B. C. Ni-kso-ko-wa: Blackfoot Spirituality, Traditions, Values and Beliefs. Browning, Mont: Spirit Talk Press, 1992.
Orthmann, August C. Tanning Processes. Chicago: Hide and leather Pub. Co, 1945.
Reed, R. Ancient Skins, Parchments and Leathers. London: Seminar Press, 1972.
Schultz, James W. My life as an Indian. Mineola, Ny: Dover Publications Inc., 1997.
Web video resources:
PDF document containing instructions on how to tan deer hides.
Instructions for tanning hides.
Food and Agriculture Organization: Description of the tanning process.
Cross-references to other AIFG Films:
--Sara Guzman, 2014