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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


August 11, 2001 - Issue 42


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In a Technological Age, Some Things Remain as They Always Were


 by John Stromnes of The Missoulian-July 27, 2001

ELMO, MT - Indian families from Canada, California, Washington and Montana, plus a contingent of Hispanics from all over - children of migrant workers whose parents are in the Flathead area for this summer's cherry harvest - gathered at Standing Arrow Pow Wow Grounds on Thursday to begin the 2001 International Traditional Games.

This is the first year the games have been held on the Flathead Reservation. They were held in Browning the previous two years, since their founding on the Blackfeet Reservation in 1999.

Long before music videos, automobiles, computer games, television, casinos and fast-food meals fractured American family traditions into hundreds of pieces, tribal people knew that families that played together not only stayed together, but survived together to play again next year.

''As you have fun in the next few days, remember that these games have been going on for thousands of years. These games taught survival skills and values that helped us define who we are as Indian nations today,'' said Antoine "Tony" Incashola, cultural leader from the Salish-Pend d'Oreille Culture Committee in St. Ignatius. Incashola was among the speakers at the opening ceremony.

''These games honor our most important natural resource - our children,'' said Maggie Goode, member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council from Hot Springs,

Some 200 participants joined in the Grand Entry before lunch Thursday, and by lunchtime, the ranks had swelled by 50 more, by actual count of lunches served. (Food for participants is courtesy of the 2001 International Traditional Games Committee of the Flathead Reservation.) Folks are staying in tepees, tents, vans and campers at the grounds, much like a traditional powwow.

More than 300 people are expected to attend. Thursday was a "demonstration day," where folks got used to one another and learned about the games of other tribes and cultures. The games will start in earnest Friday and continue through Sunday. Spectators are welcome and there is no admission charge. Some of the most popular events to watch are those on horseback, such as arm wrestling. Horse games start about 6:30 p.m. both Friday and Saturday evenings.

Most traditional games require considerably less investment than a horse, however.

Some games, such as bull-roarer, are among the simplest ever invented. The bull-roarer is known universally among tribal cultures and is played in even the most remote aboriginal lands. In some indigenous cultures the bull-roarer is even considered a sacred noise-making device. Among some South Pacific tribes, only adult males may make the bull-roarer roar.

But how many kids today could fashion a noisemaker out of a stick, a piece of twine and another stick? Many were doing it at the Traditional Games on Thursday, and having fun, too.

Dee Anna Leader, principal of Plains Elementary School, was a teacher at Browning on the Blackfeet Reservation in 1989 when she helped Blackfeet children chronicle and videotape 20 traditional Blackfeet games that were in danger of being lost forever. Leader is a consultant and game leader at many such events, including the games at Elmo.

The games chronicled by the Blackfeet included one of the most popular of those now played in traditional games events. It is called by the Blackfeet children "Run and Scream." It was first described in 1920 by a visitor to a school on the reservation, who saw Blackfeet children playing it spontaneously at recess, without any teacher's supervision.

In Run and Scream, participants line up and see how far they can both run and scream an excellent skill if you are a Blackfeet warrior and want to intimidate your enemy.

"It was really important to have a strong heart and lots of yelling ability,'' Leader told a group of preschoolers who had lined up to play Run and Scream (as a game, rather than a tantrum) for the first time in their young lives.

Some were hesitant, as if they could not yet believe that running and screaming could be an activity not only sanctioned but praised by adults.

But most soon got the hang of it, and one ran running and screaming almost the length of the Pow Wow Grounds, all in one huge breath.

Because of the decline in tribal culture caused by reservation life, and by a generation of children sent away from home to off-reservation boarding schools, Run and Scream was barely remembered when the Blackfeet children revived it a decade ago, Leader said.

In fact, ''the traditional games of all people are disappearing fast,'' Leader said. They have been replaced by highly competitive sports, some of which probably had their origins as traditional games but have changed drastically to elite, highly competitive activities.

The Blackfeet wanted to help other tribal cultures revive their games, and planning began in the early 1990s for a kind of Indian Olympics.

''In one of our first Talking Circles (organizational meetings) people said, 'Don't make the games youth-oriented.' They wanted them family-oriented,'' Leader said.

Thus the emphasis in traditional games is on participation, not competition. Moms, dads, and aunties play some of the games, such as the tribal version of Indian lacrosse (a game of great hilarity and social interaction when played according to the Indian rules) and help out in innumerable ways supervising the younger children, who seem to need very little supervision despite running around screaming and waving sticks or throwing them in several of the games.

Leader said one way to understand the cultural significance of traditional games is to divide them into two categories - those that teach skills of strength, courage, dexterity and endurance, and those of intuition and chance. Of the traditional games so far compiled, almost half are games of intuition and chance.

These games are just as important as physical ones, she said, because they teach intuitive skills. For example, they teach keen observation; the ability to observe and interpret subtle clues of body language or changes in the natural environment was vital in traditional societies.

''These skills helped anticipate danger,'' she said. They were also important for social cohesion.

Among the tribes socializing and gaming in the traditional way at the Elmo Pow Wow Grounds this weekend are Tobacco Plains Ktunaxa from Canada, Peigan First Nation from Alberta, an Arapaho child visiting from Wyoming, Spokane Indians from Washington state, representatives of the Agua Caliente Band of Cohuilla from Palm Springs, Calif., the Blackfeet from the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, and, of course, the Kootenai, Salish and Pend Oreille from the Flathead Reservation.

 Maps by Travel

International Traditonal Games

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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