This bag is made from calf moose skin, sewn with sinew and lined with cotton fabric. A smoked, tanned moose hide collar holds a drawstring to pull the bag shut. This kind of bag is often called a meat bag as 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 the Behchokǫ̀ area from residential school in Fort Resolution about 1916-1918.
Vital Thomas was born in 1904. When Vital was six or seven years old he went to residential school. He stayed at school for seven years, never going home for a visit. He is remembered as one of the first from his area to go away to school. A young teenager when he returned to Behchokǫ̀ ,Vital took this bag with him on a trapping trip with an uncle. A mink paw on the drawstring is from his first animal caught, kept to bring further good luck.
Vital spent his early years at Trout Rock (Enodah) on the North Arm of Great Slave Lake, surrounded by his mother’s brothers and cousins. 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 towards the tree line. Vital worked for trading companies, driving dogs and running ahead to break trail. He hunted, trapped and fished, and witnessed Treaty 11 in 1921. He supported the RCMP for fifteen years as a Special Constable. “In fifteen years I made lots of patrols. I’ve been all around this lake [Great Slave Lake] patrolling by dogs and by boat.” Vital married Noemi in 1930. They raised their children and fostered others. He staked claims for gold in the Yellowknife area and worked on early mining operations. Vital 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 received this meat bag from him sometime between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s. Vital passed away in 1990.
Object credit: Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre 2000.011.005
Photo credit: S.Irving/PWNHC