Atlatl competition: Throwback to prehistoric times

Clarence Plank

Modern people took a step back to pre-historic times Saturday by competing in the annual atlatl competition at the Blackwater Draw dig site.

The tournament featured contestants armed with replicas of ancient atlatl spears.

John Poitras, of Albuquerque, was in town for the tournament, now in its tenth year.

“I think it is a nice and interesting activity just to come out and relax on a weekend,” said Poitras, who has thrown a few times with family, but said this was his first competition. “It’s basically like throwing a baseball.”

The competition includes different courses with targets consisting of paper or cloth drawings pinned to hay bales. Players take turns flinging the spears and play from where their shot lands.

Poitras said it is like playing golf.

John Umberger, chairman of the department of behavioral sciences at New Mexico Military Institute, said the group he brought with him is from the Native American Club at NMMI.

“This group is very unique,” Umberger said. “All the students I brought are Native Americans and they are pretty diverse. They’re Pueblos, Navajo, Sioux or Lakota. They’re from different parts of the west and they’re all students from NMMI and we try to do different Native American activities.”

Umberger said a parent, Harvey Abeyta, has been helping the NMMI students.

“Most of the students haven’t done this stuff before, so Abeyta has been teaching them,” Umberger said. “He actually made our throwers or the atlatl itself and made all of the arrows for us.”

Abeyta, of Santa Domingo Pueblo, is a sponsor for the club.

“This is one way the cadets are learning about primitive skills,” Abeyta said. “As Native Americans we’re losing our primitive skills because parents work. So this is a way to connect with the youth again. We’re hoping to be able to teach these kids so years down the road maybe they can hold classes for the cadets at the institute.”

NMMI Sixth Classman Cody Charlie is a member of the Native American Club. Charlie said they just started learning to use the atlatl about a week ago.

“I’ve really enjoyed myself being here at the competition,” Charlie said. “At first, learning the atlatl is a little difficult to do, but once you get into it, it is really easy.”