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MODOC Bows- Indigenous Bow-maker

Hi all. I think I've mentioned how lucky I am to meet so many cool people in the work I do. I wanted to feature a friend of some friends this time. Josh is a traditional bow-maker that I heard about from some former students of mine. He makes traditional bows and has great perspectives to share on being an indigenous person practicing traditional skills.

You can find out more about Josh and his work through Instagram @modocbows

(You can even get him to make you a custom bow!!!)

I got to interview Josh back in the summer and here's the interview:

  1. Can you share a little bit about why you make bows and why it's important in this day and age?

I make bows because its one of the healthiest ways I have found to decolonize myself in a world run by rich white land owning males.

Making bows is good medicine for me and my people. Many folks that are Klamath /Modoc like me are amazed to see this craft still being practiced by one of their own.” Most of our traditional skills are usually held by white males and are exploited for money and novelty.”  It is a lost craft where my people were relocated from over a hundred years ago during indigenous genocide to make way for “manifest destiny.”

When I make bows I am in a state of prayer where I feel my Modoc ancestors pouring their hardship and beauty into the bows I Produce. It’s a direct connection to the creator and a pouring of prayer into the wood grain I hold, shape, bend and shoot. My spiritual elder told me that I was given this gift from the creator to see something that is already beautiful in its nature and to make it even more beautiful is something of rarity. I also have recently been making bows for sale to help financially assist my family who have been out of work during the covid-19 pandemic.

Each person that I have made bows for in the past 2 months has been reinvigorating in a sense that people are intentionally seeking self-bows made in a traditional way by an indigenous person. This has been a rewarding process inside and out. From inspiration, perspiration to celebration of seeing the customer shooting their own custom built bow is beyond words and more than a feeling.

2) Can you describe a bit about how you make your bows and how you harvest you materials (and how this reflects your approach as potentially a  bit different than other bowyers)?

My approach to bow making is a different than other bow makers especially the ones on youtube. It is that which initially comes from a deeper connection from the harvest itself. All I see are money hungry and ego flexing males mostly claiming stake on sacred skills and materials (like any colonizer does) and never giving acknowledgement to its life force, the tree’s role in an ecosystem or the people who’s land they are moving about so freely as the original peoples had once done in the past. But only when they had harvested , it was with ceremony, song and respect. When I look for a harvest, I never chop aimlessly just because I see a straight grain tree. I first touch and get to know it by feel. Then I ask for permission to harvest. Sometimes the answer comes directly when I see a robins nest in the top limbs of the tree or antler scrapes of a neighboring buck the answer is plain to see, NO.. Sometimes the answer comes a year or two later coming back to visit it and asking once again and most times the answer is plainly no and that’s perfectly ok. Before I even go harvest I ask the creator to remove all my self-seeking motives that would distort my ability to connect with the language older than words when in the presence of our branched relatives. Its important to remember that not all good trees for making bows actually what to be bows. When a person asks me to create a bow for them, I also do not randomly grab a seasoned piece of wood to crank a bow out. I have to let it choose me with intention of making it for another person.

3) If you feel comfortable, can you share a bit about what it's like being an indigenous person practicing traditional skills during this time?

Being an indigenous person practicing traditional skills can be triggering and frustrating when people use the words “primitive” or “stone-age” when they are teaching on native land. I find it offensive and insulting for these folk to better paint the idea that native people are no longer living or that we are actually dinosaurs. Traditional skills such as bow and arrows making, hide tanning, hunting, fishing, fire were practiced extensively amongst turtle island but it doesn’t mean that it was necessarily primitive. Primitive has the connotation that everyone in the post colonizer societies  possessed all these skills which is not true. That’s why people worked and lived together in communities to balance out the strengths and weaknesses in skills that they held on order to thrive.  I feel the word “primitive”  pulls away and covers the fact that indigenous people had thoughtful systems in place to hold balances among their relationships with other peoples, the natural world and connection to creator. The word primitive and stone age provides the continuation of miseducation and disconnection to the indigenous people who are damn near extinction due to colonization and white assimilation… It only hold the white narrative that indigenous people were blood thirsty-scalping savages which was only made possible by white propaganda during the early European contact that spread fear and hate like wild-fire that still resonates in white modern society today.

4) Finally, anything else you'd like to share about yourself, your story and your work.

My goals are simple.1. To create opportunities for indigenous youth and foster a new era of mentoring for them to learn, preserve and become advocates for their cultural traditions, customs and practices.. 2. Promote awareness in acknowledging indigenous people, the sacred harvest and analyzing and reflecting the ways which bow makers across the world are running their businesses and take inventory on how to give back when all I see is “money for the taking” mentality when it comes to their exploitation of land and its resources.3. provide the best bow I know how to make out of materials I have personally harvested to honor the spirit that was sacrificed to be turned into traditional hunting tools for folks to learn with and pass down the their children.



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