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Meat Bag

Curated Submission
Behchoko, Northwest Territories
1916 - 1920
DIMENSIONS in centimetres
49 x 25
Materials & techniques
Moose skin, moose hide, sinew, cotton; Sewn
Prisque Winlatto
Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre 2000.011.005
This bag is made from fetal or calf moose skin (hair on), sewn with sinew, and lined with cotton fabric. This kind of bag is often called a meat bag because it was used to carry dry meat to eat while travelling and working on the land. It was made by Prisque Winlatto for her son Vital Thomas, when he returned home to Fort Rae (now Behchoko) from residential school in Fort Resolution. Vital Thomas was born in 1904. His father died when he was a child, and he lost all seven brothers to tuberculosis by the time he went to school at the age of six or seven, in 1912 or 1913. He stayed at school for seven years, never once visiting home. He is remembered as one of the first from his area to go away to school.
A young teenager when he returned, he took this bag with him on a trapping trip with an uncle. A smoked, tanned moose hide collar holds a hide drawstring to pull the bag shut. The mink’s paw on the drawstring is from the first animal he caught, preserved to bring further good luck. Thomas spent his early years at Trout Rock (Enodah) on the North Arm of Great Slave Lake surrounded by his mother’s brothers and cousins: “I had all kinds of uncles all around. I got to call everyone Uncle.” He is recorded as saying his mother “worked like a man,” setting nets and fish hooks under the ice. She had her own dogs and drove the team when they went to meet the caribou out toward the treeline.
He worked for trading companies, driving dogs and running ahead to break trail. He hunted, trapped, and fished, and he witnessed Treaty 11 in 1921. He supported the RCMP for 15 years as a Special Constable. “In 15 years I made lots of patrols,” he said. “I’ve been all around this lake [Great Slave Lake] patrolling by dogs and by boat.” He married Noemi in 1930, and they raised their children and fostered others. He staked claims for gold in the Yellowknife area and worked on early mining operations. He was also a consultant to anthropologist June Helm over the course of many years (1962–79) and worked with a number of linguists. Helm recorded his stories and autobiography, and she received this bag from Thomas sometime between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s. He passed away in 1990.
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