3 generations of archers embrace tradition at Mi’kmaw Summer Games

Kerry Prosper can kill a moose with a single arrow shot, and this week he took his skills deep into the woods around Millbrook First Nation to compete in archery at the Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Summer Games.

The 67-year-old was joined on Team Prosper by his daughter April Prosper, nephew Kris Sylliboy and grandson Kaeden Prosper. The focus was both on hitting targets, and on Mi’kmaw archery traditions.

“I like being in the woods because it’s a natural scene. The smells and sounds of the woods are peaceful,” Kerry said. “I’ve been an archer since I was a young boy, making bows out of alder wood and shooting goldenrod for arrows.” 

The Prospers are from Paqtnkek First Nation. During the archery competition at the Games, which run until Sunday, the team of four had to attempt to hit 20 different 3D animal targets.

a man using his bow to hit a target with 3 other people watching while in the forest.
The Prosper family looks on as Kerry sets his sights on the next target. He would receive eight points for this shot. (Tehosterihens Deer/CBC)

Millbrook archery co-ordinator Vernon Gloade said the sport has always been intertwined with Mi’kmaw traditions. 

Gloade said each animal target consists of three rings, with 10 points for hitting the heart, eight points for hitting the lungs, and five for hitting anywhere on the body. Each animal is specifically placed to challenge the archers.

“The rules we follow are if you have a compound bow you have one arrow, but if you have a traditional bow you have two arrows and the highest score wins,” Gloade said.

Each Prosper family member has their own traditional “recurve” bow, a design that adds more snap when an arrow is shot. April and Kerry’s were handmade in the 1970s and are still in pristine condition.

Kerry praised 3D archery at the Games for its realistic feel and challenging target locations.

“Sometimes the target is deceiving because the animal looks like it’s further away, but when you’re hunting in real life, you don’t get the ideal conditions,” he said.

man standing next to a moose he hunted
A photo does the story justice, as Kerry poses next to a moose he killed with a single arrow in 1991. (The Prosper Family)

During the competition he recalled one particular hunting trip in 1991. Late at night, after he and his hunting party had travelled for hours by canoe, Kerry began using a moose call. He woke up the next morning, grabbed his bow and headed to his hunting spot.

“I called and called and I came to a clearing and at the end I could see the horns of a moose. He couldn’t see me and I knew where he was going because of my call. I hid under a bush, set myself up, and I took my pack off waiting.”

Slowly, the moose approached his spot. With each step, Kerry said his anticipation rose. When the opportunity came, Kerry pulled back his bow and let the arrow go just as the animal spotted him and began to bolt.

The moose ran off, but Kerry knew where he was heading. The hunter gathered his things and woke his party to search the area.

man taking out arrow pierced through a tree in the woods
Kerry said part of the archery competition is understanding the surroundings. He is shown taking out an arrow after a missed shot. (Tehosterihens Deer/CBC)

“After searching and searching we saw a pool of blood and I knew it was a lung shot. We finally found him, and after everything we began getting all 600 pounds of meat hauled on the canoe.”

The meat was used to feed family and friends, a Mi’kmaw tradition.

April Prosper said the family recently took up archery again after a five-year hiatus. She credits her father with getting her to participate and signing the family up for the Games.

“I just missed it, I missed that feeling of not worrying about anything, because it’s like a form of meditation,” she said.

Her son Kaeden said it had been years since they all got together to compete.

“It feels good to be out with them and it feels like we’re coming out of retirement,” he joked. “It’s nice getting back into it with them, and standing in the woods for hours with my bow is like therapy for me.”

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