AL: Tell me a little about the inspiration behind CrowsNest WildCraft; what is your goal/mandate?
Crow’s Nest is a rewilding education project: it’s a venue for learning wild skills in the pragmatic, corporeal sense of the word, and as well is a venue for re-learning what it means to be wild, embodied, and land-based.
MC: Do you see the idea of wild craft as being related to bush craft/survival skills?
Absolutely. The word ‘wildcraft’ encompasses hunting and gathering on – and reciprocating to – one’s home landbase. Harvesting willow for basketry, cedar for friction fire, or salmonberry shoots for food are all wildcrafting actions.
By extension, I consider modern scavenging to be wildcrafting. My main work is hide tanning, and I wildcraft deer skins by skinning hunters’ deer and keeping the hides.
AL: Are you influenced/inspired by First Nations traditions and knowledge in your practice?
MC: Decolonization is central to my practice as a hide tanner. Like bowmaking, hide tanning is a global phenomenon in everyone’s ancestry, but also has specific spiritual and cultural significance to specific Indigenous Nations.
As a settler, I gear my work towards respect and mutual exchange. I use methodology that does not trample on other people’s cultures, but rather look into my own ancestry for meaning. I strive to cultivate relationships in that facilitate decolonization in both a broad cultural sense and a personal one.
AL: What sparked your interest in tanning? Do you see resurgence in interest in this skill?
MC: I was learning to hunt and butcher animals but no one I knew had considered tanning hides, so in my romantic zeal for ‘using the whole animal,’ I went full on into it. I messed up a lot! But something about it was deeply fulfilling and it’s always been fun. There is a lifetime of learning in this one skill.
There is definitely a resurgence in tanning, and I am happy to see it. Tanning is a low-impact project that can be pursued by skimming off the excess of the hunt, such as I do.
AL: What kinds of animal hides do you work with?
MC: Mainly deer – white tail, black tail, and mule deer – and also elk, antelope, and sheep.
AL: How is your practice connected to sustainability and environmental awareness?
MC: Well, it’s quite impossible to be unaware of one’s environment when literally wearing the skins of nearby animals! That is a very different reality than wearing leather shoes from the mall. There is no easy elevator speech for the experiences of connection, appreciation, and understanding that come from being a peer on the land with other beings.