For as long as I can remember, I had been making my own bows and arrows. On the rez in Hall Lake, I would use mīcosis – a small popular tree for bows and I would use the blue rope used for fish nets. The arrows would be made from popular trees and it would be heavy wood. When the bow and arrows dried up, they would be warped, which was fine for the bow, the arrows not so much. However, the bow would become too hard to pull and when I did pull as hard as I could, they would break.
I started using waskwāsak- small birch trees for the bows and they worked so much better. I started using cut-up 2X4s for the arrows, and they worked better because they were already dry and stayed straight. I must have been eight years old at the time.
My family would go to La Ronge for long visits and sometimes I would get bored. I had friends from school, but I usually spent time by myself. 101 reserve was our home community in La Ronge before we got a house in Hall Lake, so I was familiar with the area. There were many small birch trees to cut down and use.
I had an older cousin, Johnny Venne, who was one of the cooler athletic types. He seemed a bit obnoxious to me and seemed to bug our other cousins on purpose by teasing them and running away. One time, we were around several of our older cousins and they were smoking cigarettes and he would tell them, “You should be like me. Don’t smoke.”
I rarely hung with him because I was 3-4 years younger and he had many friends his own age, who were so much cooler than I was. One day, he came by nohkomonān owāskihikan – our grandmother’s house, to visit and he noticed I had a bow and some arrows.
He was checking it out and he was asking me who made it for me, and I told him that I made it for myself. I was giddy to get my cousin’s attention, here was my cool cuz conversing with me about something I do. So of course, I offered to show him how to make one.
We spend a good afternoon in the bush with knives we took from somewhere, I cannot remember, but anyway, we found some good size birch and scrounged up some rope. We made our bows and arrows and we had fun shooting at targets, not targets from the store, but old cans and beer bottles that were all over the rez.
Johnny, being as cool as he was, got bored of just shooting at random objects, he wanted some action. 101 reserve is beside Highway 2, and the road curves around the rez to get from the village of Air Ronge to the town of La Ronge. It was late evening in the summer, and many vehicles use the road. It is the only major highway linking the tri-community of LLRIB, La Ronge and Air Ronge. My cool cousin had a wild idea.
He suggested we go to the brush on the side of the road and shoot at the vehicles driving by. I remember thinking it was a bad idea that only bad kids did that sort of thing, but I wanted to stay in the good graces of my cuz who I looked up to. I hesitantly agreed against my better judgement and off we went.
Our first attempt at shooting vehicles, we did not even get to the roadside. Our uncle, who lived in a small cabin near the highway, saw what we were going to do, and he broke our bows in half. I felt so ashamed of myself and wondered if he would tell my parents what we were trying to do. So, Johnny figured we should try again the next day, and I nodded yes.
The brush was tall around the roadside so it would be difficult to be seen by the unsuspecting, innocent drivers. The first few shoots dropped on the pavement. We heard a couple of arrows thumping onto a car or two, but they kept driving. Then there was this big truck, it looked like a U-Haul moving truck. It was getting dark, so we were well hidden. Johnny took a shot, and we heard the arrow loud and clear when it fell on top of the truck. The truck stopped. We froze and looked at each-other for a split-second, and then we ran as fast as we could.
Me, being younger, chubby, and not as athletic, my cuz Johnny was way ahead of me. We ran across the main rez road and I saw him run behind the water well. I finally caught up to him and hid with him. Our hearts were pounding, and I was scared out of my mind, sweat running down my plumpness. While my cuz looked frightened at first, he seemed fine, I think he might have been enjoying the rush of getting away with something.
The next day, I went to the same place where we were shooting the vehicles and he had his posse with him. He had taught them how to make bows and arrows and they were shooting at the vehicles and running away. I did not join them this time. I went back to my usually routine of spending time with myself. My family eventually had to go back to Hall Lake.
Just a note on my cousin Johnny Venne, I told him that I would be writing this blog. I planned on just using “cuz” or “cousin,” but he gave me permission to use his name. Johnny is still athletic and still has abs. He is still the cool kid to me.
ahcāpiy – bow
akask – arrow
nohkom – my grandmother
wāskahikan – house
nohkomonān owāskihikan – our grandmother’s house
mītos – popular tree
mīcosis – small popular tree
waskway – birch
waskwayak – birch trees
waskwās – small birch tree
waskwāsak- small birch trees