Jace Bernard first picked up a bow and arrow when he was just seven.
Now 18, he is a promising archery marksman, carrying on a longstanding First Nations tradition.
Bernard is on the Nova Scotia archery team for the North American Indigenous Games next July. The archery events will be held at his home of Millbrook First Nation.
“I’m not a big fan of having audiences for archery,” said Bernard, 18, competing for the first time in the NAIG. “It’s going to be a bit different compared to normal, because usually it’s just a small group in the middle of the woods.”
To prepare for the NAIG, Bernard shoots at least once a week on the 3D archery range in Millbrook First Nation near Truro.
First Nations hunters in times past used simple bows and arrows made from wood, bones, stone and animal skin.
But Bernard and his fellow NAIG athletes will compete using advanced 3D compound bows, specially designed for sports.
Bernard himself practises shooting at smaller targets, which will help refine his aim at the NAIG, and maybe bring him a medal.
“I’m very proud of his accomplishments, given this is his third attempt at qualifying and he was so close to getting there,” said Bernard’s father Tim. “He’ll be able to represent the community and I hope he treats it as something that is very important to him.”
Tim said archery had helped his son not only master a new sport but it also expand his social circle. Meeting like-minded people has helped him make new friends.
Jace comes across as quiet and soft-spoken. Tim recalled a training camp held last month in Baddeck, when all the athletes were shy around each other at first, Bernard included.
It ended with the youths “not really wanting to leave.”
“It was good to see that camaraderie come together,” said Tim.
His advice to Jace going into the main games was simple.
“Enjoy the experience, because you’re not going to have another like it in your life,” said Tim.
A mother’s joy
Unlike Bernard, 17-year old Amelia Gehue is returning to the NAIG for the second time in two years.
And for her mother Meranda, seeing her daughter on TV “was probably the proudest moment of my life, honestly.”
“I was watching on the phone on my mother’s doorstep and I was crying, because I was so proud,” said Meranda from their home in Indian Brook.
This time, she is hopeful Amelia will come home with a medal. She very nearly did last time, consistently placing third in her archery shoot, before an injury forced her to bow out early.
Unlike last time, when she watched her child on TV in Toronto, Meranda will be there in person to cheer Amelia on.
“I’m excited this time around,” said Meranda. “It’s the same feeling all over again … archery is the only thing she really gets excited about.”
Amelia’s archery career enjoyed a strong start. When she first took up the sport at age seven, she shot a bullseye on her first-ever practice.
The North American Indigenous Games
Seven Nova Scotian archers will be representing their province at the NAIG next year.
Most of the games will be held in Halifax, where up to 6,000 athletes from across the United States and Canada will be based. For the events at Millbrook First Nation, athletes will be transported by bus.
“Expectations are high after the 3D Archery Team won five of Nova Scotia's 14 medals at the 2017 NAIG,” said head coach Stephen Kerr in a release. “With Nova Scotia being the games host, there is a bit more pressure to perform well. The athletes are keen to compete and do their best and I have every confidence that they will, based on what we saw at the try-out competitions over the summer.”
The one returning athlete is Amelia Gehue. She will be joined by newcomers Jace Bernard (Compound, 19-and-under) from Millbrook, Lexi Paul (Compound, 16U) from Eskasoni; Cole Prosper (Compound, 16U) from We’koqma’q; Cassandra Paul (Barebow, 19U) from Wagmatcook; Taylor Hartlen (Barebow - 16U) from Eastern Passage; and Jaico Thomassiah (Barebow, 16U) from South West Margaree.
The games will run in both Halifax and Millbrook July 12-19, 2020.