Qikiqtarjuaq looks to reopen tannery

Hunters would benefit from local business, say hamlet leaders



IQALUIT — With a pile of seal skins and some locally trained tanners, Qikiqtarjuaq hopes to get its old tannery back in business.

Earlier this month, drums used to tan hides were going full speed as two local residents learned the art of seal-skin tanning.

The tannery, which opened in the small eastern Baffin community in the 1980s, closed in 1994 because of poor financial management and lack of administration.

Now the community wants to breathe life back into the business.

Tia Nukiwuak, the economic development officer in Qikiqtarjuaq, helped start a pilot project to study the long-term future of the tannery. The study will show whether it’s feasible to reopen the tannery.

“We have the local resource. We have the seals here. We have the infrastructure here with the sewing centre and the tannery,” she said.

“It just seems logical to us to that this be a regional centre for seal skins and for tanning.”

The two-week project, funded by the departments of Sustainable Development and Community Government and Transportation, also saw a tanning expert from the South train two residents to tan hides.

Harry Alookie, 38, rolled up his sleeves and practiced washing, scouring, rinsing, pre-tanning, pickling and staking seal skins.

“I like learning new things, so that’s basically why I was interested in having that training,” Alookie said in a telephone interview.

Alookie, the municipality’s land administrator, said he wants to train others to tan hides.

Teaching residents the tanning trade is a first step in getting the tannery operating again.

Nukiwuak said everything is in the testing stage now. Seamstresses are analyzing the quality of the skins, while the tanning trainees are checking the equipment and trying to find the best method to produce the best furs.

Another crucial test is whether the waste produced during tanning will be too harmful to be disposed of locally.

“It just seems more logical to have Nunavut skins come from Nunavut, instead of going outside of Nunavut to be tanned.”

– Tia Nukiwuak, Qikiqtarjuaq economic development officer

Chemicals, including chromium, are added to the skins to soften them. When the skins are rinsed, some of the chemicals are left in the drums. Nukiwuak said the waste is being tested to determine if it can be disposed of locally or if it will have to be shipped South.

“We want to make this as environmentally safe as possible,” she said.

If the waste has to be sent out it will add to the costs of running the tannery.

Money is also a factor when it comes to equipment.

The tannery currently uses small drums to tan the skins. The drums can handle only 20 skins at a time, and with the process taking two-and-a-half days, only 40 skins can be tanned per week.

Nukiwuak said bigger drums would result in increased productivity. The hamlet is looking for funding to purchase industrial-size drums, she said.

She admits there are several hurdles to clear before the tannery is ready for business. But, she said, the community is gung-ho to see the project get off the ground.

“Because Qikiqtarjuaq was one of those communities that didn’t benefit from decentralization, the benefits will be significant, both to the local hunters and to the local women who are sewing.”

Hunters, in particular, would profit because the tannery would pay them for skins.

Nukiwuak said she envisions the tannery buying furs from throughout the territory.

“We want it to be a regional facility with regional skins. It just seems more logical to have Nunavut skins come from Nunavut, instead of going outside of Nunavut to be tanned,” she said.

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