Five days of training on Hay River Reserve for Dene and Northern games

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People from all over the NWT gathered on the Hay River Reserve recently to learn more about traditional games.

Those games fall into two categories – Northern Games like one-foot high kick, two-foot high kick and musk ox push, and Dene Games such as stick pull, finger pull and handgames.

“We’re trying to build capacity in the Northern and Dene Games communities,” said Shawna McLeod, community development manager with the Aboriginal Sports Circle of the NWT, which presented the training sessions from Nov. 25 to 29. “So we’re trying to provide opportunities, like training for people who are interested in starting their own programming in the communities or wanting to get involved with the Northern and Dene Games in any way.”

Sharon Pekok, centre, the recreation director with K’atlodeeche First Nation, and Stacey Sundberg of Dettah compete in a finger pull match – officiated by Tyler Lafferty of Fort Simpson – during a training session for Northern Games and Dene Games last week on the Hay River Reserve. The training for instructors and coaches was presented by the Aboriginal Sports Circle of the NWT. Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

The five days of training attracted 25 participants from Tuktoyaktuk, Aklavik, Yellowknife, Behchoko, the Hay River Reserve, Fort Smith, Tulita, Paulatuk, Dettah, Fort Providence, Fort Simpson, Fort Good Hope and Whati.

“People are really excited to bring it back to their communities,” said McLeod. “They want to use these games in different ways for programming. People want to bring it back to their carnivals. People want to bring it back to introduce it to the youth in the communities to eventually coach or send a team to the Traditional Games Championships.”

Similar training was offered in Yellowknife last year.

And McLeod hopes such training can also be offered in other communities.

“Anyone interested in Northern and Dene Games can take this training,” she said. “Whether you’re wanting to be a coach, whether you’re wanting to be an official, if you’re wanting to start your own program in your community, or if you simply want to learn more about your ancestral history.”

McLeod noted traditional games are becoming more popular.

“There’s a lot more interest in the communities and the Northwest Territories as a whole,” she said. “So it’s good to see.”

McLeod believes people connect to their roots through the traditional survival games of the Dene and Inuvialuit people.

“Each game that was played was played traditionally for a purpose. So each game that we introduce has a history connected to it,” she explained. “For example, the snow snake was used as a hunting game and it was practice for accuracy out on the land. It was a hunting tool, essentially. And there are hundreds of games and they all have a story attached to them.”

Sharon Pekok, the recreation director with K’atlodeeche First Nation, said she learned a lot by taking the training.

“The reason I wanted it here was so that I could have the training, or anybody else if they were interested to come and do the training, so that we can actually start doing these different events with the kids, whether it was Northern Games or Dene Games,” said Pekok.

Steve Cockney Sr., an elder originally from Tuktoyaktuk now living in Inuvik, said he was on hand at the training to ensure the Northern Games are brought down to youth in the proper way.

“The experience that they’re getting now is something that we hope that they can carry on throughout the years and pass it on to the next generation,” he said.

Cockney noted there are over 300 Northern Games.

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