George Catlin's "Game Of The Arrow."
The Tradition Of The Bow
By Dakota Wind
GREAT PLAINS, N.D. & S.D. – In my young boyhood days, my mother took me and my younger brother to live on the east coast in the city of Boston. I remember the longest most boring ride in my life from the prairie to the city. My mother had gotten a job there at the Boston Indian Council, nowadays, the North American Indian Center of Boston, but I’ll always remember it as the B.I.C.
I had long hair and wore it in braids. The American Indian population in an urban area is on the order of one percent of the population of Boston, about 6000 today, but I always felt – outside the B.I.C. – like the only Indian, and at school, I probably was.
I remember one time my mother taking us to a sports shop of some kind. There she bought a compound bow for herself and some wonderfully sharp arrowheads for hunting that my brother and I were fond of getting into no matter how many times we were warned. She bought us a bow too to keep us occupied, but probably so we could learn how to shoot.
One day, early morning, we caught a bus to New Hampshire, and then a ride out to a dirt road that lead us to a cabin along a creek there. I don’t remember much about the cabin other than it had two rooms. But outside there my mother put her bow and arrows to use. She also practiced throwing knives too and could stick a tree from perhaps fifty feet away, though my young perspective wants to magnify that distance to a hundred.
There in a cabin tucked away in the eastern woodlands my brother and I learned how to shoot a bow.
We moved back after a year or so. We lived outdoors along the Missouri River for a while there, then into the Episcopal Church, before my mother found us a place to live on Golf Hill. We practiced the bow off and on during this time, but it was after we got a place to live that we practiced most often. My mom got us a square bail of hay to hit that we set up behind the house.
Karl Bodmer's "Bison Hunt." The Plains Indian draw method is not clearly seen in this image (its a variation of what's called a pinch draw, at least what I was taught), but the hunter looks pretty cool hunting from astride a horse.
One day, my Lekší (uncle) Cedric called my brother and I into my lalá’s (grandfather’s) garage. There he had finished some ash bows. He had even rolled the sinew to make the bowstring too. He gave us instruction on how to care for the bow, and even how to draw it.
It followed then, that we should bring our arrows with us the next time we went to our grandmother’s. That day came soon, and my Lekší wasn’t home, but my other other Lekší, Jimmy, was. Uncle Jimmy saw that we had brought our arrows and urged us to take up those bows in the garage.
Later that afternoon Uncle Jimmy saw us shooting into the empty lot next door, and he came out to encourage us in our progress. He nodded many times and told us about an archery game in which we should shoot the arrow up as high as possible, and that the bravest soul would be the one who didn’t move from whence he shot.
Inspired by this revelation, but downplaying my growing anticipation I continued to fire into the empty lot with exaggerated nonchalance until my uncle grew either bored of my play or tired of the sun, I couldn’t tell. Assured of his absence when I heard the weather door slam pitifully shut. I reached for an arrow, nocked it with unconcealed expectation, aimed straight up into the heart of the sky and carelessly drew and released.
I saw it go up and vanish into the blue. My eyes burned with the afterimage of a green circle from following the arrow’s flight past the sun. And I waited.
Faster than I ever thought to anticipate, the arrow cut through the sky and quietly stuck into the earth perhaps a pace or two from where I stood. I could only look at the arrow. I didn’t know what to expect to feel. Relief that I didn’t hurt myself? Bravery that I stood stock still? Fear? If anything, I felt curious for a moment. I wondered what the arrow “saw” so far up. Was the arrow I shot the same as the one that fell?
I used to wonder things like that.
And I ran out of the way after shooting an arrow into the sky.