Please Listen to Raven Radio’s Morning Interview with the Sitka Tribe of Alaska and Alaska Way of Life 4-H Program
Written by Molly Johnson, Sitka Conservation Society
Hunting is more than a means of subsistence, it is a practice that deeply connects us to the land. Recently, 4-H Alaska Way of Life partnered with the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Language and Education program to embrace the depth of this relationship by learning the art of respectful deer processing. Chuck Miller and Heather Powell shared their Tlingit background and knowledge about harvesting and processing deer. Miller explained that when a hunter kills an animal, it is not because the hunter has a lot of skill but rather because the animal chose to share its life with the hunter. This perspective encourages an important humility we all must have to successfully live with the land.
Miller revealed that to respect the spirit of the animal, one should act as if the deer were still alive throughout the processing. With this in mind, a person is more likely to take care while butchering the meat and behave in a way that will not offend the animal’s spirit. In this way, future animals will continue to trust the hunter with their lives. Powell and Miller stressed to the children that if they find certain parts of the processing uncomfortable or gross, they should keep the thoughts to themselves; saying “eww” is disrespectful to the animal which trusted the hunter with its life.
In the lesson, Miller demonstrated how to safely remove the deer hide, the head, and the hooves. Participants predicted what each element could be used for. The group concluded that the hide could be used for clothing and drums, the antlers could be used for buttons and tools and the hooves would make great baby rattles. 4-H members and STA language and education students assisted in removing the hide. They worked diligently to cut up the meat into sections and wrap up the meat so it could be frozen. Some participants learned important new vocabulary such as the shoulder, backstrap, tenderloin and hind quarters! The many lessons made it a very successful evening of skill-sharing.
Most importantly, along with practical skills, the participants gained an important connection to tradition and culture. In respecting the animal, we are also respecting the ancestors who lived here long before us who subsisted on this animal and passed the practice to future generations. This is the art of conservation: using what we have and protecting it to share with generations to come. A huge thank you to Chuck Miller, Stephanie Gilardi, Heather Powell, and the STA Language and Education program for sharing such important knowledge with 4-H Alaska Way of Life.
Venison Stew and a Family Night Out
As a follow up to the deer processing event, 4-H and STA Language and Education program hosted a family night out dinner at the Sitka Kitch, Sitka’s community/commercial kitchen space. Families were invited to arrive early to help cook up some delicious venison stew. People worked together to chop carrots, celery and 4-H grown potatoes for the dish. As the aroma of dinner permeated the air, families took time to make kindness chains, where each member wrote kind actions they intend to carry-out during the holiday season.
Dinner-time meant a table full of homemade bread and jam, wholesome salad and the hard-earned, mouth-watering, stew. While families indulged in the delectable dinner, sounds of joyful conversations filled the air.
The evening ended with crafts and the opportunity to make handmade deer calls. Children revealed their genuine generosity as they listed off the people who they planned to give their deer calls. Along with the fun, came an important lesson in safety when using the calls. “Be careful when you use your deer call because you may also call in a bear.”
The Family Night Out dinner taught us all that the process of preparing a meal is a wonderful way to bring people together. Each element of the dinner held a story: who caught it, who baked it, who ate it. This surely is the way food is supposed to be.