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Playing games was more than just a pastime to ancient Native Americans. Some tribes played games during ceremonies to ensure a good harvest, others to expel evil spirits. Games were often played to resolve disputes, such as who had the rights to a certain territory. They also were used to educate children and to improve one's concentration, coordination and dexterity.

Traditional games are still played today, often competitively for money or other prizes. Here are four Native games and instructions on how to play.


Many Native Americans play a hand game or stick game where two players each get two sticks – one plain, one marked – and guess which is in their opponent's concealed hand. Different tribes play their own version; you can read about how the Paiute of the Great Basin area do it, along with game instructions and rules, here.


Hoop and Pole is another traditional Native game in which a person tosses a long stick at a rolling hoop. Different tribes have their own way to play; the Arapaho (Prairie/Plains), for example, call the game Buffalo Wheel and lace a spider-like string around the hoop. This video shows how the Chumash people of California play Hoop and Pole.


Chunkey originated with the Mississipian tribes in the Cahokia region (St. Louis area), although many Native Americans play it. Similar to shuffleboard, the game requires long poles, a smooth stone and good hand-eye coordination. Different tribes have their own variations; this video shows how it's played in Cherokee Nation. You can read the instructions here.


Native Americans also play traditional games of logic and abstract strategy. Picaria is a Zuni game that may appear tic-tac-toe easy, but actually involves math skills and strategic planning. Learn how to play here.

#NativeAmerican #Nativegames #Zuni #Cherokee #Chumash #Paiute

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Updated: Sep 1, 2021

Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest are renowned for their totem poles. These colorful, handcrafted totems are much more than decorative art – they are used to tell traditional creation stories and share valuable life lessons.

Totems also delineate the generations and social rank within each tribe. Families are represented by different animals and characters, which were given human traits to help people better identify with them. Raven is one such character that often appears on totem poles.

Native Americans believe Raven to be the great transformer, the one who released human beings from the cockle shell and gave them fire and other gifts. He created the land, and placed the stars in the night sky. Yet he is also a sacred trickster, a shift-changer who is gluttonous, greedy and only able to change the world by stealing, deceiving others or simply by accident.

Ravens are used as clan animals by many Native American tribes including the Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian, Kwakiutl, Nisgaa-Gitksan, Salishan and Menominee. Different tribes often have their own take on Raven creation stories. Here is an adaptation of the Tlingit story, “How Raven Gave Light to the World”:

The Eyak Indians of Alaska tell how Grey Eagle guarded the sun, moon, stars, water and fire, but wouldn’t share them with humankind. So Raven stole them from Grey Eagle’s longhouse and flew as high as he could, hanging the sun, moon and stars in the skies above. He then flew back over the land and dropped the water that formed into lakes, rivers and streams. As Raven continued on, the smoke from the fire stick blew back on him, turning his feathers black. When it finally burned his beak, he dropped the stick on some rocks, concealing the fire within them – a spark of which emerges when you strike two stones together.

Saxman Native Village in Ketchikan, Alaska is home to the world's largest collection of Native American totem poles, while the totems in Vancouver's Stanley Park are one of British Columbia's most popular attractions.

When the park was badly damaged by a windstorm in 2006, large pieces of scrap wood and timber were given to local Native artists and craftspeople. Coast Salish artist Richard Krentz selected a Douglas fir stump, transforming it into this Raven sculpture. The aptly named "Raven: Spirit of Transformation" is on display at Miniature Railway Plaza in Stanley Park.

Photo credit: Tlingit Raven Clan Totem Pole at Tlingit Heritage Center in Teslin, Yukon, Canada by Ruth Hager

#NativeAmerican #NativeAlaskans #totempoles #raven

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Updated: Sep 1, 2021

Alaska's First Peoples have called the Last Frontier home for thousands of years. Enduring the 49th State's subarctic environment required individual strength, prowess and keen instincts, as well as the ability to work together toward a common goal. Games and contests were used to develop these critical hunting and survival skills.

Today those same skills and values are put to the test at the annual Native Youth Olympics (NYO) Games. Established in 1972 and hosted by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, NYO brings together hundreds of student-athletes from across Alaska to participate in 10 events based on traditional contests. The Games take place each February (youth division) and April (senior division) in Anchorage. (The 2020 and 2021 Games were held virtually due to COVID-19).

Each event is designed to test one's physical and mental endurance, as well as build leadership skills and a spirit of cooperation. Participants are challenged to perform their individual best while also supporting their fellow competitors – regardless of the team. NYO events include:

Alaskan High Kick

To begin, athletes sit on the floor and balance on one foot while grabbing hold of the other foot. They then thrust their balancing foot straight up to kick a suspended ball, landing back on their kicking foot – all while keeping their balance. The game was originally used by hunting parties to signal to their village that a hunt was successful.

One-Hand Reach

Athletes begin by balancing their body weight on the palm or knuckles of one hand. They then reach for a suspended ball with their free hand and replace it on the floor – without letting any other body part touch the ground. This game was played to maintain physical fitness during the winter months, as well as demonstrate balance, strength and control.

Two-Foot High Kick

This event requires athletes to jump with both feet simultaneously, kick a suspended ball, and land back on both feet without falling backwards. Historically it was used to communicate when a hunt was unsuccessful.

Seal Hop

This exercise was used to sneak up on a seal by mimicking its movement on the ice. From a push-up position, contestants must "hop" across the floor on their hands and toes while maintaining the push-up position.

To learn more about the Native Youth Olympics – including details about each event with step-by-step how-to videos – visit the Cook Inlet Tribal Council website.

Image credits: Cook Inlet Tribal Council

#NYO #NativeAmericans #NativeAlaskans

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