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.
Chuck Miller teaches about being respectful. Photo: Mary Wood
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.
Chuck Miller and 4-Her work to skin a deer. Photo: Mary Wood
Participants gain hands-on experience in deer processing under the mentorship of Chuck Miller and Dane McFadden.
Photo: Mary Wood
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.
Participants pack and label to prepare venison for storage. Photo: Mary Wood
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 Andrew Martin for donating his prized buck and to Chuck Miller, Stephanie Gilardi, Heather Powell, and the rest of STA Language and Education program for sharing such important knowledge with 4-H Alaska Way of Life.