Caribou are essential to traditional peoples of the north.

Caribou meat is eaten, and the rest of the animal is used in a variety of ways. The antlers are carved into many types of tools and tool handles as well as sculptures for sale. Caribou hoofs are strung onto a caribou skin cord and used as rattles.

Caribou hides are made into soft, warm clothing. Clothing used in summer has the hair removed. Winter clothing is made with the hair left on. Each caribou hair is hollow which traps air inside as well as between the hairs. This extra insulation makes caribou hair clothing warm even in -40 degree temperatures. Caribou skin clothing is an essential survival tool in northern latitudes.

The best time to hunt caribou for winter clothing is the fall, when the hair is firmly attached to the skin. In spring the caribou sheds, loosening the hair attachments. Summer clothing can be made from skins of animals killed in the spring.

To prepare caribou skin for tanning, the hide must be scraped. All fat, meat and connective tissue must be removed before the tanning proceeds. This can be done with a knife made from metal or stone, but these are sharp, and often cut the hide. A better tool is made from the bones of the caribou itself.

In the following series of photographs, Mr. John Shae makes a hide scraper from a caribou metatarsal (lower leg bone). Warning: the pictures below depict a real caribou leg being processed.

Thanks goes to Mr. John Shae, Sahtu Dene of Fort Good Hope, who graciously demonstrated the making of the scraper on the banks of Deh Cho (the Mackenzie River) to Barbara Winter in 1984. Original web page by Dr. Barbara J. Winter, Adapted for AEM by Melissa Rollit, 2016.