Traditional skills are part of learning for Aboriginal high school students in Alberta


The technique of making traditional Aboriginal bows and arrows cannot be found in any book or manual, as the knowledge is passed down orally, from generation to generation.

On their first day of learning, grade 12 students at Morley Community School discovered which willow branches are the best to use.

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

“I learned from my grandfather, Thomas Snow senior and my uncle Tom Snow junior,” Snow said. “I went to a hunting camp and they showed us how to make these bows.”

Snow says that in her culture, it’s important to show respect for the willows needed to make a bow an arrow.

“They used to be trees, c’est la vie, plants,” he said. “Everything has a spirit and you have to treat it with respect, they’re not toys, they’re not playthings, they’re for hunting and you’re going to take a life with that.”

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 hands-on workshop helping Stoney Nakoda youth reconnect with their culture.

“When you learn math and science in school, it doesn’t connect with yourself, especially with Indigenous kids,” she said.

“This is the knowledge that has been passed down for thousands of years and this is what we learned from Brother Tom and Thomas Snow, that they gave this knowledge to the knowledge keepers and the learners.”

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

“The whole process of building the bow, building it, the idea behind the trajectory, the idea behind the energy transfer, to do any kind of hunting, that’s where the connection comes into play and that’s basically the basis of a lot of the physics that they’re going to do,” 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 have this opportunity because it’s rare to see people making them today.

“I’m really honored to take this trip because I’m learning how to do this,” Rabbit said. “Let’s say if I’m bored then I can always go into the bush and find out what tree, what willows to take, what I’m really excited for, I’m grateful to be on this trip.”

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

“First we went to get willow trees, offering tobacco and cutting them down,” she said.

“That’s where I found mine, and then we have to peel them (bark) now.”

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

“I want them to leave here knowing that, I’m a First Nation and I know how to love, if I’m in the woods with just a knife, I can take care of myself,” he said.

“Survival is that, I want them to learn 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, students will learn more about how to make the arrows fly straight. This will take place on June 21 at the TELUS Spark Science Center to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day.

“Science is the realm between mind and reality,” Czuy said. “Kids will come and they can make arrowheads and carve flint, understand the physics of rocks and obsidian and how to make an arrowhead for the arrow, and then they’ll do a demonstration for the audience on what they learned. here today and demonstrate their bows.”

Learn more about the Online Indigenous Workshop.