In Joshua Hood’s Portland, Oregon, home, meticulously painted bows crafted by his own hands are stacked tall on wooden racks and gathered together in a corner like a small patch of trees. Elsewhere, rugs and ponchos in colorful geometric patterns adorn walls, chairs and couches. A quiver of handmade wooden arrows with stone arrowheads stands proudly in a ceramic vase painted with Indigenous art.

It’s immediately evident that this home — the first that his family has owned in generations since they were forcibly removed from their ancestral homeland of rural southern Oregon — reflects the deep cultural respect and stewardship of its owner. Joshua, a proud member of the Klamath Modoc Tribes of Southern Oregon, purchased the house to give his grandmother safe and secure housing. He also wanted her to witness the community he was working to build. She was an elder and a matriarch — and people could learn from her just by visiting and speaking with her. She passed away last year, but her spirit lives on in this house and in his work.

An Indigenous bowmaker and traditional craftsman, Joshua has been a mentor and teacher to Portland’s Indigenous community for nearly 15 years. He is one of the only people of his generation in Oregon who is actively learning, practicing and teaching these ancient skills and arts. He tans animal hides in his backyard, crafting string out of back strap sinew from elk or bison hide and plant fibers. He handshapes arrows from ocean spray wood that he harvests in the nearby wetlands. He forages stones, feathers and bone to make arrowheads and arrow fletching.

Joshua uses these ancient techniques as a conduit by which to grow and empower the urban Indigenous community. Not so long ago, Indigenous craft and spirituality were nearly lost — outlawed and stripped away by those who sought to subjugate Indigenous people. With more than 350 tribes represented in Portland today, Joshua sees many Indigenous youth in need of guidance and mentorship. The care and attention to detail evident in his craftsmanship is mirrored in his commitment to mentoring the community.

“It has to do with how to mentor teens, getting them more involved with culture and traditions rather than gang activity,” Joshua says. “The best prevention is education through mentorship and leading by example. I will never tell anybody what to do. I just say, ‘Hey, that didn't work for me.’ I can only share my story and lead by example.”

I think a true teacher is someone who is committed to continuing to learn and grow. That is literally my passion, learning and growing with these skills but also in community.

Joshua Hood

In his childhood, Joshua led a transient and unsettled life in Oregon, shuttled between the reservation in rural Chiloquin and a rental home in Portland. His father died when he was young, and his mother struggled with alcohol and drugs. He and his brothers were raised by their grandparents, who offered him kindness, counsel and a safe space amidst worlds that often rejected him.

Growing up, Joshua had his own struggles with alcohol. Never fully accepted as an Indigenous child on the reservation nor as an urban kid in the city, he eventually turned to drinking as an escape. Alcohol was a refuge for him — it offered a respite from difficult circumstances.

“It's hard to voice that as a kid because you don't understand,” he says. “But as an adult, when you start working through your traumas and you start doing a lot of reflection, that’s maybe why I went to substance abuse. It’s about not fitting in — because you're not enough of this, but you're not enough of that either.”

Then, four years ago, he quit drinking. Its influence was becoming apparent in his craftsmanship. His work was sloppy: He could see his toolmarks, he wasn’t sanding his work smoothly, and he wasn’t taking the time to properly finish his work. For the first time, he wasn’t proud of what was hanging on his walls. In an act of catharsis, he burned most of it, but kept some as a reminder of where he had been and where he would rather go.

“I think a true teacher is someone who is committed to continuing to learn and grow,” Joshua says. “That is literally my passion, learning and growing with these skills but also in community.”

A core aspect of Joshua’s mentorship is reconnecting with nature, often exploring the dense forests not far from Portland. With his mentees and students, Joshua hikes over rugged hills and past towering trees, searching for the right wood to harvest for his bows and arrows, teaching firemaking and animal tracking skills. Joshua instructs the group to pause and focus intently on a yew tree’s gently curving branches. They decide it will serve as a bow stave, but first they lay down a handful of tobacco to thank the tree for giving its life to them.

“A lot of the things that I teach and that I mentor, it's not about putting these things into people. This is in our DNA,” he says. “So it's about pulling it out of people. Letting it be seen and letting it manifest itself into physical things that we can hunt with or pray with. And that’s a real gift.”

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