A short snowmobile ride from Yellowknife, Devon Allooloo—flanked by his two young children—stands in front of a small plywood box. He bends down to brush off the powdery snow that has settled on top. His children crowd around the box, peer- ing inside to see a dead marten, its neck clasped between metal teeth.
Allooloo’s five-year-old daughter Náįlį watches intently as her father explains how to properly—and safely—remove the animal from the trap. “It’s funny because she gets almost as excited as I do when I see a trapped animal,” Allooloo says. “She looks forward to it and she’s really interested in learn- ing about the whole process.” As they move on to check other boxes, Náįlį helps set some traps. Later she watches as her father skins the animal, step by step.
Allooloo didn’t have that kind of hands-on trapping tutelage growing up. “I’ve always been interested in trapping, but I’ve never had anyone to really [teach it to me],” he says. In 2018, he sat down at his computer and searched trapping videos on YouTube. There, he spent hours following trap- pers online, including NWT trapper Andrew Stanley, who posts videos under the name TheWildNorth.
Allooloo learned how to make and set humane traps, how often to check them, and how to prepare the pelts afterwards. He even contacted some of the trappers afterwards for more tips.
A year and a half later, he was ready to put these lessons to work. “I was doing essentially what I had learned online and it was working,” Allooloo says. “I had immediate success.”
Growing up in Yellowknife, Allooloo’s parents were hunt- ers. Living off the land was part of Allooloo’s upbringing. He helped his parents pick berries and sink lines into the lake to catch fish. “The first animal I harvested was a caribou when I was six,” he says. “It felt good, but it also just seemed very normal. I would always go with my parents hunting.”
Allooloo spent much of his childhood observing animals in nature. His family ate what they harvested, and he learned to skin animals and also how to process the meat. “It’s al- most like I took it for granted because it was such a rich way of life,” he says. “I was very blessed to be able to grow up that way.”
His parents passed on their love for being out on the land. Allooloo now co-owns Narwal Adventures with his mother Cathy, who started the company in 1987. (His father led cari- bou and polar bear hunting trips out of Pond Inlet, Nunavut.) The tourism outfit offers paddling tours, youth programs, first aid training and dinner theatre evenings that include adventures on a 29-foot voyageur canoe. Allooloo has also started to offer trapline tours, as part of a pilot project.
“It’s usually people who want to go check out the trapline. I bring them out on the skiddoo and we go to see what’s on the line,” he says. “But what’s also been popular is people coming and seeing how to skin animals at Narwal.”
Although it’s something Allooloo has done since child- hood, preparing pelts as a fur trapper is different. “You have to practice great care around the face and the paws.
You must remove all the fat and all the bones, and you have to make it pre- sentable because the people buying [the fur pelt], they’re going to want to make sure that the whole pelt is complete so they can use it for either taxidermy or for clothing.”
Allooloo’s pelts are sold through the Genuine Mackenzie Valley Fur Program, which the NWT government launched in 2002 to help stabilize the local fur economy. Northern trapping began to decline in the 1980s, says Francois Rossouw, who used to lead the program.
“We started seeing a change in harvesting and lifestyles activities ... It was also pushed by the anti-fur movement,” he says.
But trappers like Allooloo are keeping the industry alive. “As some young people start to question what they are doing and are trying to rid themselves of the [effects] of residential school and colonization, fur harvesting is an activity their forefathers have done and it connects them to their past and their Elders,” says Rossouw.
That certainly plays a role in Allooloo’s career choice, as he continues the sustain- able lifestyle he grew up with. Knowing he can provide for his family through trap- ping gives him a sense of freedom. “I find it’s healing for me to get out onto the land, and I think it would be healing for a lot of other folks.”
It’s a lifestyle he hopes to pass on to his own children. “I think it will give them a source of revenue if [they want to trap]. Not only that, but it’s a good way to connect with the land and learn about animals and their habits,” he says. “It’s very therapeutic to be out in the bush.”
On the trapline, Náįlį keeps watch for footprints of lynx, marten, wolverine or wolf. When the family hop back on the snowmobile and turn around a bend in the forest, she sees a trap that’s been set off. “Lynx!” she yells, eager to get her hands on the soft fur.
The young girl carefully helps remove the animal from the pen, remarking at its pointy ears, sharp claws and the spots along its body. Triumphantly, she helps carry the animal to the snowmobile, gain- ing more confidence in her abilities with each trip out to the trapline.