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Indigenous Alberta high school students learn to make traditional bows and arrows


The technique to make traditional Indigenous bows and arrows can't be found in any text book or manual because the knowledge is passed down orally, from generation to generation.

On the first day of their learning, Grade 12 students from Morley Community School found out which willow branches are best to use.

Kyle Snow looks like one of the students but the 30-year-old has been focused on learning as much as he can about his culture then passing that knowledge on to others.

"I learned from my grandfather, Thomas Snow senior and my Uncle Tom Snow junior," said Snow. "I went to a hunt camp and they showed us how to make these bows."

Snow says in his culture it's important to show respect for the willow trees needed to make a bow an arrow.

"These were once trees, they're life, plants," he said. "Everything has a spirit and you have to treat it with respect, these are not toys, these aren't playthings, these are for hunting and you're going to take a life with this."

The learning opportunity is hosted by the TELUS Spark Science Centre.

Kori Czuy is the Indigenous engagement specialist and says this is the second iteration of the on-the-land workshop supporting Stoney Nakoda youth in reconnecting with their culture.

"When you learn about math and science in school, it doesn't connect to yourself, especially with Indigenous kids," she said.

"This is the knowledge that has been passed down for thousands of years and that's what we learned from Elder Tom and Thomas Snow, that they have gifted this knowledge to the knowledge keepers and apprentices."

Richard Lushai is a knowledge keeper who connects what the students learn in math and physics class with traditional elements learned at the workshop.

"The whole process of building the bow, the construction of it, the idea behind trajectory, the idea behind energy transfer, to actually do any type of hunting, that's where the connection comes in and that's basically, the basis of a lot of the physics that they will be doing," he said.

Jayden Rabbit is 18 years old and this was his first experience making his own bow and arrows, He says it's a gift to get this opportunity because it's rare to see people making them today.

"I'm really honored to be on this trip because I get to learn how to make this," said Rabbit. "Let's say if I get bored, then I can always go in the bush and know what tree, what willows to get, which I'm really excited for, I'm grateful to be on this trip."

Dannaya Lavelle is 17 years old learning to work with wood and a sharp knife.

"First, we went looking for willows, offering tobacco and cutting them down," she said.

"That's where I found mine, and then we have to peel (the bark off them) now."

Snow says it will take a few weeks for the bows to dry and be shaped before they can be strung, and he says learning the process is a big achievement for the students.

"I want them to leave here knowing that, I'm First Nation and I know how to like, if I'm out in the woods with just a knife, I can take care of myself," he said.

"Survival, that's what it is, I want them to learn that they can do that, you know, I can go out and survive with a knife, you know what I mean."

In the next phase of the project the students will learn more about making the arrows fly straight. That takes place on June 21 at the TELUS Spark Science Centre in celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day.

"Science is the realm of between spirit and reality," said Czuy. "The kids will come and they get to make arrowheads and do some flintknapping, understanding the physics of the rocks and obsidian and how to make an arrowhead for the arrow and then they're going to do a demonstration for the public on what they learned here today and demo their bows."

Learn more about the Indigenous workshop online Top Stories

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