Archery gives Lakota youth a piece of their pastFor Lakota youth, archery offers an opportunity to connect to their past while taking part in a sport that is growing in popularity.
By: Kristi Eaton, The Associated Press
SIOUX FALLS (AP) — Thanks to this year's blockbuster movies "The Avengers" and "The Hunger Games," archery is enjoying a national renaissance, with ranges reporting a steady uptick business and outdoor stores scrambling to keep up with the demand for bows.
But for 15-year-old Bailey Clifford, it's not the fictional heroine Katniss or a sleek Hollywood film that's turned him into an avid bow hunter. It's his Lakota culture.
Clifford, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, has bow-hunted since he was about 9 years old, a skill he learned from his father.
Now, Clifford spends hours imagining he's hunting for food just like his ancestors as he explores the land around his home in the northeastern edge of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, near Badlands National Park.
"Whenever I'm using a traditional bow, you feel like how they felt probably whenever they used to hunt buffalo," Clifford said. "It feels really cool to shoot how they used to shoot."
For Lakota youth, archery offers an opportunity to connect to their past while taking part in a sport that is growing in popularity. The Lakota people historically used the bow and arrow to hunt for animals, such as buffalo, eating the meat and using the hides for clothing and shelter.
The reservation's Oglala Lakota College hopes to convince other children to take up the sport and is hosting a week-long bow camp, starting Monday, for middle and high school students. They'll learn everything from how to cut staves and saplings to make bows and arrows to stringing and shooting the bow.
"The cool thing about archery to me is it can be an individual sport, it can be a cheap sport, but it's something you have to do yourself, " said camp organizer Joe Flood, an associate professor of English and the archery team's co-coach. "The real idea is to get kids to take initiative and do it yourself."
The camp will also teach students math and science principles, such as dentrology, the study of wooded plants, and how to analyze the distance and speed an arrow travels, said Helene Gaddie, the Environmental Service Coordinator at Oglala Lakota College's Math and Science Department.
The camp is an offshoot of a similar effort that started on the Cheyenne River Reservation in north-central South Dakota in 2004.
Jack Holthaus, an avid bow hunter who lives in Springfield, Ore., started the nonprofit organization Bring Back the Bow to help reinforce Lakota values. The camp started out small, just six or seven kids in the first year, but swelled to 175 participants last year. This year's camp is scheduled for June 18-21.
"This is so closely tied to their culture — that is the buffalo culture — that is seemed like a real good fit and kind of a vanishing art," he said. "We think it recaptures or preserves an important part of their culture. Without a bow, they couldn't eat. It gives parents an opportunity to talk about their culture and the importance of the bow."
Students at his camp use materials provided by the organizers to build a small, primitive bow that's similar to what Lakotas in the 1850s used. The organizers furnish arrows and the kids use life-sized foam animal figures for targets. Experienced bow hunters from across the country come in to teach the kids proper technique and shooting safety.
A Lakota elder also will talk to the participants about staying drug and alcohol-free, Holthaus said.
Michelle Janis, a 22-year-old archer on the Oglala Lakota College team, is a modern-day spin on the Lakota hunter. Traditionally, men were the hunters, not women. She had never shot a bow before joining the school's team this year, and will be one of the teachers in next week's camp.
"For me, it's like symbolic," she said.