Canku Ota


(Many Paths)


An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 10, 2001 - Issue 29



Snow Snake Demonstration Gives History Lesson


By Kristin Howard The Post Ohio U.

ATHENS, Ohio -- Several Athens community members braved the cold Saturday morning to learn about the ancient Native-American tradition of snow snake competitions.

Residents of all ages came to watch Fred Kennedy, a snow snake competitor from the Cattaraugus reservation in New York state, demonstrate the techniques he uses in competition.

Kennedy constructed a snow snake track from piled up snow near the Hocking River at the Stimson Avenue soccer field. The mile-long track is hollowed out with a log and made into a tunnel.

Teams compete to see who can throw a snow snake -- a stick carved especially for the competitions -- down the tunnel the farthest. When thrown, the stick looks like a snake in the snow.

Native Americans began playing the game more than 500 years ago, Kennedy said. It is still played by many Native people on reservations today, especially by eastern tribes.

It is believed that at one time the game was used as a means of communication, said Elisa Young, an Athens resident and Kennedy's friend. Snow snake competitions take place every weekend from the first big snow until all the snow is gone in the spring, Kennedy said.

"I got an early start this year with a big snow in October," he said. "I would love to compete all the way into June if I could."

In the next few weeks, he will be competing in several contests in New York as well as one in Bradford, Ontario. Kennedy returned to New York on Saturday afternoon so he could compete in a contest on the Tahawana reservation Sunday.

Kennedy said he truly enjoys the sport and plays as much as he can. He has been participating in snow snake competitions for almost 50 years.

"I've been competing since I was 12 years old, and I'm 61 years old now," he said.

Kennedy's visit on Saturday was not his first to Athens. Young, who was instrumental in bringing Kennedy to Athens for this visit, said she has been trying to bring him back for years, but weather conditions do not always cooperate. When he last visited, he brought a 600-foot metal snow snake track and laid it out on the football field. The track can be used for competitions when there is no snow on the ground.

"We've been trying to bring him but it's been hard," Young said. "We've had to wait for a weekend with a good snow."

Young attended a snow snake competition recently and said participants take it very seriously. She said everyone has their own tricks that make the snake go faster and farther on the track, but everyone is secretive about their techniques.

Each snake has a unique appearance, she said. Their distinct markings and carvings tell spectators who made them.

Kennedy also demonstrated a stake game, in which the participants try to make the snake stop at a certain mark.

The Native People Awareness group at Hocking College is planning a trip to the snow snake competition in Ontario next month. Young said she wants students to see what an actual competition is like.

Ohio University students interested in joining the trip can contact Young at 740-593-2248 for more information.

Sosemanuk (Snow Snake)




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