Processing Caribou Legs
Working in the city many teachers receive Starbucks cards or cute mugs from students and their families. Working in the arctic is a little different. Sometimes you are given body parts. The family of one of my students gifted me two caribou legs and rack of caribou ribs. Receiving such a generous gift brought me so much joy!!
I hung both legs from my kitchen ceiling and got to work processing the meat. I portioned the legs into steaks, stewing meat, ground meat, and roasts. The remaining bones are boiled and marrow is saved. Deconstructing the legs was fascinating and a once in a lifetime experience. The key to keeping the meat in well portioned pieces is to follow the creases where the different muscle connect. When you butcher the meat properly it comes apart with ease.
Cooking with Caribou
I am learning all the ways to cook with caribou. I have taken to replacing anything I would use beef with with caribou meat. We have made nachos, burgers, spaghetti, stew, slow cooked steaks, and stir fry. The key to successful caribou cooking is spices. I don't find the meat to be too gamey, but it tastes so much better when it is seasoned well.
I have been studying meats of the land with my class. Together we have learned the many health benefits of caribou. It is way better for you than beef or chicken.
The skating rink has been getting lots of use this spring. The school has hosted a few skating days for the community.
The school purchased a second skate sharpener, which is helping with the maintenance of the many skates. I absolutely love looking out my kitchen window and seeing the kids skating on the rink. Seeing the kids play makes the many man hours so worth it.
Spring Carnival has been by far my favourite week in Colville Lake thus far. In many ways I wish this event happened at the start of the school year. I was able to deepen my understanding of the Dene culture and build even stronger relationships with community members. I was all in for any event that came my way and enjoyed all the laughter that ensued as people watched the "white girl" try to be Dene. By the end of the week it was declared that I becoming a Dene woman.
During Carnival everyone is outside all the time. The fire is constantly going and people are hanging around. There is no fixed schedule; rather, people gather and start events whenever it feels right. The main fire pit is right outside my house, which meant that I could look out my window and see what was happening. Students were around all the time (so naturally I put them to work splitting my wood).
Spring Carnival spanned from Wednesday to Sunday. Wednesday and Thursday was kids carnival. The day started with big breakfasts at the school and events ran through until close to midnight. All games are for cash prizes.
The kids do all the same games as the adults do on Friday to Sunday. Everyone knows carnival has started each day by the smoke of the fire. Once the fire is going the people show up. People tend to the fire all day and meat is always cooking and free for taking. Everyone shares and pulls apart the meat with their fingers. I felt so welcomed and loved sharing in this tradition. Many families cooked and sold food and treats out of the back of their trucks.
The above picture of caribou heads were used for the caribou head contest. During this event contestants are timed in the skinning and portioning of a caribou head. People are required to split the head into 7 pieces while wasting nothing. The portioned heads are then boiled and eaten.
One of my favourite events to watch was tea boiling. Tea boiling is a timed race. The contestant has to run to his or her designated fire spot and make a fire. Kids were allowed to split wood prior to starting, but adults had to split wood as part of the race. I had originally signed up, but chickened out when I saw how fast the elders could split wood. I stood no chance. You are given a book of matches, some logs, a tea pot, water and a tea bag. The first one to bring the water to a boil and steep their tea over the fire wins. It was so fun to see the kids building fires. It was amazing how safe and regulated they were.
Evening events took place in the gym. Each night there was a Dene food contest. On one night I had the honour of judging the food contest. I gave first place to the boiled caribou head (which I sampled the tongue). Second place went to a white fish dish and third to a chowder.
The caribou head was a total hit. I was told that it is easy to over boil the head, but this pot was perfectly done and the meat was tender and delicious. One little boy came running up to me and held the eye socket up to my face. He yelled, "Ms. Evans, I ate the WHOLE eye!" Later another kid came up and asked me to pluck the hair off the chin so he could get at the meat.
Another highlight for me was target shooting. I entered in the adult category and was close to placing. I was beat in the second round and came in fourth place. I have been working on target practice at the dump with pop cans. It is really fun.
The two little beans pictured below became my shadow over carnival. They are best of friends and love to follow me around. One of them calls me Ms. Heavens and the other calls me teacho. Spending time with the little ones makes me miss being around my own nieces and nephew.
Many events took place on the lake. They had snowshoe races, foot races, log carrying, skidoo races, and much more.
I had the amazing opportunity to join the getting wood contest. In this event there is a man, a woman, a skidoo, a sled, a chainsaw, and an axe. It is a timed race to see how fast you can go across the lake and return with a sled full of 7 foot long logs. If your stack is too short 10 min is added to your time and if your logs are too short another 10 is added. I entered with the father of one of my students, George. It was the most exciting and dangerous experience of my life. We flew across the lake so fast that I couldn't even feel the bumps of the snow under our tracks. Once we hit the forested are we wove through trees at top speed. George used the chainsaw and cut down the trees. I used the axe and limbed the trees. Unfortunately, on our last tree the chain on the chainsaw flew off and George had to use the axe to portion it. This slowed us down considerably. We ended up loosing by one minute.
During the kids games I helped judge, time, and coordinate. The kids had so much fun and were so well behaved. Seeing the kids cooperate and work together changed my perspective of teaching. In the coming weeks I plan to take the kids outside more. I am going to teach around the fire while cooking caribou and fish.
Carnival was so special! I loved how willing everyone was to help me navigate the many new experiences I faced. One afternoon I asked a friend to teach me how to split wood. I was quickly surrounded by many people who all had tips and pointers. With practice I am getting better.
During Carnival we hooked the dogs up to the dog sled. The school has a small harness that hooks up to two dogs. A local elder has a larger harness and took out 8 dogs. It was so neat to see the dogs running together.
I am falling more and more in love with the Dene culture and Colville Lake. This place has impacted me in so many beautiful ways.