Native Village
Youth and Education news
October 2010 Volume 4

Aboriginal hand games regaining popularity
Condensed by Native Village

Alberta:  An ancient aboriginal game that almost became extinct has suddenly surged back into popularity.

Hand games — a community game often played with drums, sticks and spent bullets — nearly died out during the residential-school era. In many communities, only a few elders still remembered the rules. But with a new focus on culture and pride, the chants and drums are ringing again.

Hand Games is a game of intimidation, bluff and chance. It's about "reading" people and has been compared to Texas Hold'em.  The best hand-game players compete for up to $20,000 in prize money.

“Today, (my father) is probably looking down at me smiling,” said Ross Giroux, a tournament coordinator. Giroux’s father spent years trying to teach hand games to kids, but they weren't interested. He died five years ago.

On the surface, hand games are simple. Two teams face off, hide small objects in their left or right hand and the others try to guess which.

But then you add in constant drumming, chanting, shouting and shaking players to intimidate and confuse them.  In the end, it’s a mind game.

“It does tend to get noisy,” said Rita Bellerose, a team coach for 8-9 year olds. She trains them to stare at the other team until one inadvertently glances down to the hand hiding the object.

The hardest part is guessing, said eight-year-old Claydon House, adding, “when you’re playing three games straight and your legs just hurt.”

The game was often played when communities got together.  They played for a horse, a wagon or a gun. The best games could last for days. Today's school kids have a 30-minute limit.

Hand games were added to western sports at the Arctic Winter Games in 1990. A junior men's category was added in 2002 and a junior women’s category added in 2004.

In native communities, hand games is now consider the second most popular event after hockey.


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