3. Making Dry Meat: Indigenous Dene Food Preparation and the Importance of Women’s Labor in Maintaining Familial, Ecological, and Spiritual Relations
David Walsh [+]
When visiting a Dene elder with whom I have been conducting ethnographic research in subarctic Canada for the last decade she inevitably, in the course of every in-person and phone conversation, broaches the topic of what she is currently preparing: tanning two moose hides, sewing a pair of caribou-hide mittens or moose-hide moccasins with a beaver hair cuff, stirring flour and lard for bannock bread, filleting fish to hang in the sun for dried fish meat or, if a male relative has had the luck of hunting some caribou, hanging the meat on poles suspended over the fireplace for making dry caribou meat. Each of these gendered tasks of preparation is essential, not only for providing food and other goods to her family, but for maintaining good relations between Dene and their ecological relations; the animals and ancestors on whom they depend. In the study of Indigenous religions, food is an essential yet often overlooked feature. Much has been written on the acquisition of food in traditional hunter-gatherer and agricultural societies. However, the necessity of food preparation has seldom garnered attention. Similarly, scholarship, predominantly by male academics, tends to highlight the roles of men in Indigenous foodways; such as hunting or farming. My Dene consultants, male and female, do not make this mistake. In this chapter, I discuss Dene food preparation and women’s labor to highlight their unique importance in maintaining familial, ecological, and spiritual relations in a more-than-human world.