Words :: Feet Banks.
Talon Pascal has been described as “an elder’s soul shining out from a 17-year-old’s body,” and his passion for rediscovering traditional Lil’wat Nation culture and art certainly supports this.
But get him out in the bush, putting in long hours peeling logs on a traditional-style istken, or pit house, and the conversation can turn to more teenager-y topics, like snipers.
“Did you know the deadliest sniper in World War I was an Ojibwa named Francis Pegahmagabow?” Talon asks as he places a new roofing log onto the main house structure. “He had 378 confirmed kills and over 100 more unconfirmed.”
History, it turns out, is a passion of Talon’s. He intends to study archaeology after he graduates, and has already accompanied a team from Simon Fraser University on an archaeological investigation/excavation of a Lil’wat village site on what’s now known as Signal Hill, above Pemberton. Artifacts recovered suggest the village was inhabited 200-375 years ago.
Born and raised in Mount Currie, Talon and his friends started their pit house—a four-sided log pyramid built over a twelve-foot by twelve-foot hole in the ground—in the summer of 2020. Their goal was to build it in a manner as close to the traditional Lil’wat style as possible—something that hadn’t been done in years.
“Nowadays, most people don’t really know about how things were done in the past,” Talon says. “Like, with this pit house, we got the design from ethnographic accounts from anthropologists and old books.”
Talon’s desire to learn the traditional skills and techniques of his ancestors shines equally bright through his other artistic passion—since age 11 he’s been making traditional Lil’wat-style short bows, arrows, and even knives.
“My parents don’t hunt with a bow,” he says. “I hardly know anyone who does. But when I was a kid, I was really interested in making my own bow. I was researching English longbows and my dad said, ‘Hey, we used to make bows around here too you know.’ And that was the start of it.”
Talon harvests his bow wood—yew is best, but juniper, yellow cedar, dogwood or vine maple will work too—right here in his traditional territory. “You look for a suitable tree,” he says. “And if a whole tree is mostly free from knots what we could do is split it in half and then you get two bows from one tree. Then you let it dry—it could be six months to a year depending on the wood. Juniper you might be able to work it a few weeks after you cut it but a deciduous wood like maple, that takes at least a year.”
Living and hunting in the denser forests of the Coast Mountains, Talon explains, ancient Lil’wat hunters preferred the short bow for its manoeuvrability in thick brush. Recently, he’s begun gluing the gut sinew of a deer onto the outer side of his bows, for added strength. The bowstrings are also made the traditional way—from sinew or twisted hide. When it comes to fully traditional arrowheads, the main local material is basalt, chipped the right way, but nothing beats obsidian.
“Obsidian can be honed down to the sharpest edge on the planet. Some surgeons even use obsidian blades because it’s said the incisions don’t leave a noticeable scar. In the old times we would have to trade for obsidian as we don’t have a good source in our territory. The Squamish Nation would get it from near Mount Garibaldi and sometimes trade with us, or the Chilcotin would have it too in the Anahim area. The Chilcotin were our enemies though, so not sure how much trading was going on there.”
Local elders have given Talon what advice they can from memory, but he says he still relies on the Internet for a lot of his bow-making techniques. “That, and trial and error. A lot of people could tell me about it, but they had never done it themselves. That makes it even more important that I know how to do all these things. This way I can teach other people and this valuable knowledge won’t be lost.”
As an aside, the Guinness World Record for longest longbow shot, set in September 2022, currently stands at 330 metres (1,083 feet). It’s likely safe for now—Talon still has high school and a pit house to finish.
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