Students at Inualthuyak School in Sachs Harbour got re-acquainted with the land-based origins of Northern traditional games last week during a visit from the Aboriginal Sport Circle’s (ASC) Arctic and Dene games program.
Students from kindergarten to Grade 9 spent two days learning traditional Dene games like stick pull, finger pull, hand games and snow snake, along with the Arctic sports of one and two-foot high kick, Alaskan high kick, the animal laughing game and caribou skipping with the help of instructors Warren Baton of Deline and Sachs Harbour local CJ Nogak.
While many of the students had been exposed to Arctic games before, only one of the 18 participants had actually seen Dene games, which – coupled with the fact that the small, isolated community rarely has visitors – made it an exciting and fun learning opportunity.
“This is one of their bigger events throughout the school year. Us coming in and doing these traditional games, it’s kind of the highlight…so it was nice,” said Derek Squirrel, program coordinator for ASC.
“All the stuff that we introduced to them was their first time. And hopefully we’ll have a kit made for them to send up, with stick pull and snow snakes and maybe a couple drums with some music that they could learn from and be able to do hand games, so that we’re not going in there and showing them this stuff and then they never see it again or do it again. They’ll have the equipment to carry it on within their gym classes.”
Learning the Dene games will be especially important for the three girls from Sachs Harbour intending to participate in the Traditional Games Championship scheduled for Mar. 1-3 in Yellowknife, Squirrel said, where each competitor aged 10-12 must participate in five Arctic and five Dene games.
Principal Terry Davidson said he is bringing Nogak back to the school once a week for the next 12 weeks to continue practicing traditional games, which he said are important for the kids’ learning and development.
“It’s actually more beneficial to them in many ways than they think,” Davidson said. “I think they haven’t quite made the connection between their recent or distant past related to traditional hunting practices or gathering practices, but because Derek and Warren and CJ were all very willing each time they undertook a new activity or game to explain the cultural and historical relevance, it began to mean something more to the kids.”
Davidson said he feels there is a widening gap between what was once relevant to the local culture and what is relevant now, but that traditional games keep the youth linked to their history.
“It’s been really great for the kids to understand that they’re not just playing a game here, but they’re actually involved in an activity that, number one, is related to their cultural past, and number two…would have prepared them to undertake a particular activity, which would have been part of everyday life,” he said.
Davidson said he would love to have the instructors come back every month if he could because of how positive the experience was for the students.
“I feel that the children were very receptive to them as instructors. I found all of them also were not just here as instructors, but also participated with the kids in whatever they did, and that really brought an element of reality to the kids’ experience. They were teachers and mentors and facilitators at the same time,” he said.
Apart from benefit to the students, Squirrel said the program also creates worthwhile experiences for the instructors involved.
“It’s just (about) passing on the tradition of the instructors,” he said. “They’re all young and they’ve played these since a young age, so we thought it’s best for them to pass on their knowledge and these kids to learn and hopefully carry it on.”