A large, heavy spear thrown using a wooden handle for added leverage, the weapon is as ancient as it is simple, having been used by indigenous peoples throughout the Americas long before western civilization even existed.
Patrons of BisonFest on Saturday in Tatawaw Park had a chance to try out the ranged device under the tutelage of expert Gary Vieser, testing their skills against a life-size bison target. It only took a couple of throws for some to find out just how easy the weapon was to use – the atl atl might be as old as civilization, but there’s no question of its lethality and effectiveness.
The station was one of several stops in the park for the inaugural event, offering those who took in the festival a chance to learn about Métis and First Nations history and their connection with the massive herbivores throughout history.
“So it’s an educational day and we’re just trying to continue the rich history of the Metis and First Nations in the area,” said Laverne Trudel, president of the Southern Plains Métis Local 160. “We have a lot of artifacts set up and there are girls in the booth teaching it, and as you’re walking around the park here you can read and learn a lot about the bison. It all ties into the new park and gives us a chance to help people learn more about the area and what it was like back in the day.”
One of the demonstrations was the construction of a teepee, something Trudel has fielded many a question about over the years.
“So many people at Sidewalk Days and Canada Day in Crescent Park asked me ‘how do you get the rope up there’ and I must have explained it a thousand times in those four days,” Trudel said with a laugh, pointing to a rope tying the top of the teepee’s support structure together. “So we thought we’d set up our big teepee, then we borrowed the smaller teepee from the school board and gave a demonstration how these get set up without someone shimmying up the poles to tie things up.”
Also on hand was the Moose Jaw Nature Society, with Kimberly Epp educating patrons on the importance of bees to the local ecology.
They were joined by Victoria Gagne from the Clarence Campeau Development Fund to offer information about the program, which partners with Métis businesses and Locals to help Métis entrepreneurs looking to start a business.
“So we give interest fee loans and don’t take any security on those loans… there are a lot of programs for First Nations people, so we really focus on Métis people who might not have those resources,” Gagne explained.
“We have quite a few businesses we help out in Moose Jaw, and we’re not a one-stop-shop. Someone might come to us for something like opening a clothing store and when they look to expand they’ll come to us for that too… it’s an awesome job to have, helping Métis people start their own business.”
The Fund is serious business – a total of 56 projects creating 418 jobs and drawing $20.1 million in assistance in 2018 alone. In total, the project has created $114,150,000 in socioeconomic benefits through its 21 years of existence.
The event also featured a First Nations grass dancer, while Harold St. Pierre offered a jigging demonstration and lessons to close out the day.
Trudel estimated around 300 people took part in the event throughout Saturday and hopes to see BisonFest expand in the future.
“Maybe even make it a two-day event and partner with some sponsors and make it a big weekend BisonFest,” he said. “But this is a good start, you always have to start small and we’ll see what we can bring in the future.”