North American Indigenous Games

'She gave me purpose': B.C. rifle competitor inspires the man who taught her to hunt

Laatya James, an 18-year-old from the Osoyoos First Nation in British Columbia who's competing in riflery at the 2017 North American Indigenous Games in Toronto, has helped her father — who taught her to shoot and hunt — find his purpose in life.

By the time she was 10 years old, Laatya James had shot her first deer

Laatya James surprised her dad when she ditched High School Rodeo this year in favour of riflery for a chance to compete at the 2017 North American Indigenous Games in Toronto from July 16-23. (Submitted by Laatya James)

It was 4:30 in the morning when an eight-year-old Laatya James asked her father if she could join him on one of his regular weekend hunting trips.

Surprised by the request, Darryl James agreed and taught his daughter how to shoot a .22-calibre rifle.

Within a year, she was right on target.

"She starts hitting grouse in the head," her father recalled. "And I go, 'Oh. That's a little better than I was at her age.'"

By the time she was 10 years old, James had shot her first deer and then bagged two more that summer.

Now 18 years old, the former High School Rodeo princess is competing in riflery at the 2017 North American Indigenous Games in Toronto, which begins Sunday and runs through July 23.

'A lot of hard work'

"Naturally, I was never good at any sport. It just took me a lot of hard work to get to where I am," said Laatya James, a member of the Osoyoos First Nation in British Columbia.

Last year, James's hard work paid off when she qualified for the National High School Rodeo championships in Gillette, Wyoming, after only two years of competitive shooting.

She left Wyoming without any shooting medals, but the experience helped solidify her love for the sport, pushing her to set some performance goals.

'My kids are taking me places'

Both father and daughter said the time they spent hunting together helped them bond and build a strong relationship.

"It changed my outlook on life; she kind of gave me a purpose," said Darryl James.

Now the pair travel together to competitions and will attend this year's NAIG together. For Dad, that means the world.

"I grew up with my grandma and her husband. We didn't have vehicles or anything like that to travel with, or even money to make it to nationals and stuff," he recalled.

Because of that, he would travel to hockey tournaments with other families and didn't get to share his sport with much of his family, he added.

Now, James is taking every opportunity to share in his daughter's success by coaching her and supporting her dreams.

"My kids are taking me places, that's pretty cool," he said.

Laatya James, left on horse, is a multisport athlete who has competed in breakaway roping, light rifle and trap shooting at high school rodeo competitions, like this one in Alberta in 2016. She starts college in Kelowna, B.C., this fall and hopes to qualify for competitive biathlons this year. (Yvette James)

Up next: biathlon

As the Indigenous Games inch closer, the younger James is working on her mental preparation and trying to keep her excitement from taking over.

"Sometimes I watch a motivational video and listen to calm music to focus," she said.

Once she arrives at the shooting range and completes her gun check and safety equipment check, she'll take her first of three shooting positions. The NAIG competition includes prone, kneeling and standing.

"One of the most difficult positions would be standing and balancing your gun," explained James.

For this tournament she'll be shooting a borrowed .22-calibre German Anschütz rifle, but she plans on purchasing her own before heading off to college in the fall.

Her next goal: to compete in a biathlon.

"I do love hard work and exercising," she said.

As for Dad, he said watching her set and achieve goal after goal has changed his life.

"Now I'm goal-driven," he said.

"I found my purpose. That's huge — a lot of people don't strive for that, don't know what their purpose in life is."