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4 Native Games to Play With Your Friends

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.

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