N.M. During a cloudless weekend in July those curious about
Cherokee stickball visited the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center to
make sticks, hear the Cherokee language, and play a friendly game
of the ancient American Indian sport.
part of the center's ongoing exhibit "Celebrating Native
Legacies: Works in Clay" by Kathleen Wall, Victor Wildcat journeyed
from Muskogee, Okla. to share his knowledge and skill of this traditional
game, considered the oldest sport in America.
part of the Cherokee Savannah Clan with Creek and Natchez descent,
has taught Cherokee cultural crafts for 15 years as a Title VII
Native American instructor at Ft. Gibson Public Schools. He conducts
stick making workshops and guides the games in the Cherokee language.
"For the Cherokee, this is how we're trying to immerse
the language into everyday life and increase language skills and
vocabulary. I try to incorporate language into everything I teach."
to the Cherokee Heritage Center, stickball is an ancient game that
southeastern American Indians called the "Little Brother of
War" because it required many of the same skills and rituals
as battle. It is considered the forerunner of modern lacrosse, and
was historically a method to settle disputes between towns, and
sometimes between tribes.
modern objective of stickball is to score points by handling a ball
with a pair of sticks; by throwing the ball through poles, hitting
the top of the pole or the pole itself, an individual or team scores.
In a style of stickball played most often in Oklahoma, the objective
is to hit a wooden fish on top of the pole.
the social game played by the Cherokee, the whole community or clan
would play. The men use sticks, and the women use their hands,"
Wildcat said. "The younger ones will be mentored by older players,
and those with more skills will learn to be more compassionate to
others. The fish is now carved from cedar, representing the black
drum game fish. The poles are upwards of 30 feet."
is a highly physical game that takes athletic ability, stamina and
agility. It also takes skill to maneuver the sticks, which are made
from hickory. Like lacrosse sticks, they have a small net on one
end, in this case, made from deer hide strips.
brings pre-cut hickory lengths to his workshops. He shows and assists
participants in heating and bending the wood. "They are gathered
in the winter from fallen trees. We look for straight wood with
tight grains. If the tree grows near water, the grains are larger
and they aren't as good. Then the wood is soaked in water to
kill any worms." From one hickory tree, Wildcat can make up
to 40 sticks. He's refined the traditional methods to be more
efficient, since the older ways yield only about 10 sticks per tree.
the second day of the workshop, Wildcat shows participants how to
attach and weave the netting that catches the ball. Once the handles
are turned, the stick is ready for play.
historical stickball games could last all day, today they extend
only about an hour. "People get tuckered out, especially if
it's hot," Wildcat said.
stickball maker's invitation to Albuquerque came as a result
of tribal connections to Wall, who is Jemez Pueblo and Chippewa.
Wall knows cousins of Wildcat's, who traveled to Oklahoma reunions
and played stickball.
wanted to show my children that they are also part Cherokee and
to know this part of their heritage," Wall said. "I really
want my children to know their grandma was Cherokee and they have
got relatives there and these are their traditional games. This
is what they have from that side of their family." One featured
piece in her show incorporates rotating slides of playing stickball
and two sticks.
only men played stickball in ancient times, it was the women who
made the sticks. Today, Wildcat said for cultural preservation purposes,
one must make his or her own sticks.
home, he teaches the making of black locust longbows, flutes, baskets
and necklaces, as well as conducts language competitions, stickball
games, food and pottery expositions, and other cultural presentations.
He also runs a summer youth camp where he teaches how to make Creek-style
sticks. This is his first time teaching the stickball workshop outside
great self-esteem for kids when they finish. When you make it yourself,
it's great. Because that's how life is, you make it your
own if you want it. No one is going to give it to you."