Indigenous Awareness Week: flint knapping with Ed Jensen

Secwepemc weapons specialist Ed Jensen hosts workshop on the art of traditional flint knapping

Celebrated artist and weapons specialist Ed Jensen shows how to make arrowheads. (Aidan Grether/The Omega)

As part of Indigenous Awareness week, a three-hour workshop on flint knapping, facilitated by weapons specialist Ed Jensen, was held in the Brown Family House of Learning on Feb. 27.

Flint knapping is an ancient practice used by hunter-gatherers centuries ago to survive in the wilderness. The art form, which consists of making arrowheads and other weapons by flaking and chipping stones, is also a traditional practice in Indigenous communities.

Jensen, who is a member of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc band, said that his flint knapping started out as “crude and non-technical” when he was a child but he managed to perfect the craft as he matured.

“Basically I was breaking and shaping rocks because I had learned how to make bows,” he said. “I was sort of raised as a hunter, so I always had this fascination with weaponry.”

Jensen added that his experience with building bows introduced him to the art of making arrows since he needed projectiles for his weapon.

“My arrows started as very crude sticks with whatever feathers I could find to put on the end of them and a lot of times a shard of glass, stuff that wasn’t really accurate but did the trick,” he said.

Still, he explained that as he grew older he realized that there was a “technology involved”in flint knapping and that the practice was very common all over the world.

A selection of Ed Jensen’s traditional arrowheads he made during last Wednesday’s session. Jensen’s flint knapping session was part of Indigenous Awareness Week at TRU. (Aidan Grether/The Omega)

“Every culture in the world did this at some point (because) it was necessary for survival. It was man learning how to adapt to his environment to feed himself. Before there were cave paintings, there were building tools,” he stated.

Jensen said this factor inspired him to look into the past and visit museums.

“I was really fascinated by the works my ancestors did in this area and I would go home and I would try to replicate their work. I started doing the research and (then) I started learning the techniques,” he explained.

Jensen said while archaeologists do have a basic understanding of flint knapping, he believes there is a “depth in the technology” that goes way deeper than anything that he learned from them.

Still, he insisted that his expertise only came from practicing consistently and learning from his mistakes.

“I learned things that work, I learned things that didn’t work and what I’m teaching here today works,” he said.

Jensen said that flint knapping is very important to him because it is a way to showcase his Secwepemc culture.

“We have the oldest necessary art form. We didn’t have the luxury of carving and painting because we had to work hard year round because of our harsh winters,” he explained.

He added that a lot of traditions present in Indigenous cultures revolve around First Nations communities striving to survive winter. In fact, he stated that art forms like flint knapping and building better bows are just some of the technology that prove this fact.

“This is as basic and advanced as I could go with people that have never done it before. When everybody walks away here today they’ll have a couple of pieces complete,” he said.