Lakes Stickball Player by George Catlin 1835 [Smithsonian
American Art Museum.]
The first known six-sided dice dates from 3,000 BC Mesopotamia
in what is now northern Iraq. The first horse race in America took
place in the year 1668. Gambling and sport have been a part of the
human identity for as long as humans have existed, a practice that
continues today online, in casinos and in the lottery ticket.
For the Potawatomi, games of chance and competition are part
of the Tribe's long history. To educate people on this history,
CPN Cultural Heritage Center Director Dr. Kelli Mosteller is curating
a semi-permanent exhibit at the Grand Casino to showcase this facet
of the Tribe's past and present.
"Gambling in Potawatomi culture has been going a lot longer
than most would think," said Dr. Mosteller. "This is a teachable
moment. If someone is staying in the hotel they might wander into
the casino and learn something new by having this here."
Games of skill, such as stickball, shinny and snow snake are
all part of the exhibit.
"The Potawatomi used stickball more as a social game within
the community," said Dr. Mosteller. "Other tribes used stickball
to resolve conflicts."
Stickball has been around since before the 1600s. The game is
quite similar to modern day lacrosse and is a regular activity of
participants in the Potawatomi Leadership Program and FireLodge
Tribal Youth. The game is played on a 100 yard field. At each end
there are tall cylindrical poles used for goals. To score, a player
must hit the pole with the ball.
Shinny is similar to field hockey and is usually played by women,
while snow snake is skilled game that is played when it's snowy
and icy, which was very common when the Tribe lived in its original
homelands near the Great Lakes.
"In shinny, you make a long chute with the ice and then throw
a long, carved stick down it in order to see who can get their stick
to travel the furthest," explained Dr. Mosteller.
Games of chance, such as moccasin game and the bowl and dice
game are also part of the exhibit. In the case games of skill will
be displayed on the left and games of chance will be displayed on
the right. The separation of the two different styles will give
each viewer a sense of what all was played long ago by the Potawatomi.
Between each display, videos describe each game and play examples
on screen to give visitors a visual of what each looks like.
CHC curator and archivist Blake Norton developed the replica
pieces used in the display as well as the graphics for the videos.
Each replica and example requires Norton and his staff to hand make
the pieces in the showcase.
The exhibit will be used as an educational piece which shows
the Potawatomi's ties to gambling began long before the first shovel
ever broke ground on an Oklahoma casino.
"This will help showcase that these Native American casinos
are run by a Tribe that has a distinct culture," added Dr. Mosteller.
The exhibit will be semi-permanent, with only minor changes
made over the course of its time on display and should be completed
"The exhibit is to remind people that the Grand is a Native
American casino owned by Native Americans," said Dr. Mosteller.
"We want to incorporate the Potawatomi culture any way we can."
For more information about the display or to learn more about
the Tribe's history and cultural practices, please contact the Cultural
Heritage Center at 405-878-5830 or visit their website at www.potawatomiheritage.org.