COOKSTOWN, Ontario — As he waited for his son to receive two gold medals during a ceremony on a sprawling open lawn at Toronto’s York University, James E. Billie reflected on the path that helped make Santiago “Eecho” Billie a North American Indigenous Games champion in rifle shooting.
“When he was a little boy, he started out with a squirt gun. Next came the old BB gun. Then a pellet gun,” said the former chairman of the Seminole Tribe. “So he’s not ignorant of guns. I was not surprised by what he did. I’m proud of him.”
Eecho, 15, will start his sophomore year at The Pine School in August. He plays lacrosse and baseball, but when he doesn’t have a stick or a bat in his hands he usually has a rifle or rod.
“If you’d let him, he would hunt 24/7. If he’s not hunting, he’s fishing,” his father said.
Eecho dominated the overall boys U16 rifle shooting at NAIG from start to finish at the Toronto International Trap & Skeet Club in Cookstown, Ontario, about a half-hour drive north of Toronto. He earned gold medals in 3P (3-posiition) and overall.
“This means a lot to come up here and do this,” Eecho said.
Guidance came from coach Darren Marlin, from the Seminole Recreation Department, and coach/Big Cypress Board Rep. Joe Frank, who peered through a scope behind Eecho to gauge his shots throughout the three-day event.
“They help me out and show me different techniques, how I should stand, how I should kneel,” Eecho said. “They tell me where I’m aiming, where I’m shooting at. If I don’t have a scope, they tell me where I’m hitting so I can readjust.”
Eecho, the only rifle shooter from Team Florida, led a field of 14 each day. He finished with 1,586 overall points, which was a comfortable 104 points ahead of runner-up Jared Erickson from Team British Columbia. Included in Eecho’s point total was 1,047 points for 3P, which is a cumulative category for firing from three positions: standing, kneeling and laying down. He excelled at all three.
“The whole team chemistry was good. He was able to shoot and relax and the results showed,” said Rep. Frank, who also coached Eecho in the 2014 NAIG in Saskatchewan. “Three years ago we had all young kids. Even though they didn’t have experience, we brought them out to Regina to get experience. Eecho was one of those that returned and he did good this time. Hopefully, three years from now, he’ll have company.”
Eecho made sure he prepared for NAIG by honing his skills at home in Brighton.
“I learned a bunch of different techniques on how to shoot and to do whatever I have to do up here. I’ve been practicing at home and whenever I get the chance to shoot,” he said.
From toy guns to real ones, Eecho has been shooting “ever since I could walk.”
“I’ve always loved shooting. I shoot game. I do any type of shooting I can get,” he said.
Eecho’s two gold medals in rifle shooting were only part of an impressive week in Canada for the Billie family. While Eecho’s years of shooting experience paid off with gold, his sister Aubee won bronze in archery in her first-ever competition. The award ceremonies were held about the same time in venues far apart, so James attended the rifle shooting and his wife Maria attended the archery ceremony as the Billie children accounted for three of the five medals won by Team Florida.
“First time around for Aubee, that’s great. Eecho, I would expect nothing less from him than what he did,” James E. Billie said.