Annual Stick Game Tournament unites Northwest tribes in friendly competition

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

Players of the traditional Coast Salish gambling game, known by a few names including slahal, lahal, bone games and stick games, gathered at the Tulalip Amphitheater during the weekend of June 1-3. Many players arrived an entire day early, equipped with their bones, drums and lawn chairs in anticipation of the 9th Annual Tulalip Tribes Stick Game Tournament. This year’s tournament attracted a record-breaking one-hundred and forty-two teams who competed for a chance to win cash prizes, including the grand prize of $50,000. 

Native families journeyed across Washington and Canada to play in the tournament. The total payout this year was $63,000 which was distributed throughout the weekend during a number of rounds including the kid’s tournament, which drew a large crowd of spectators. 

The game was said to be invented centuries ago in order to settle a number of disputes between tribes of the Northwest, including the rights to fishing, gathering and hunting territories. As legend has it, the game was gifted to the people by the animals in order to unite the tribes and prevent war. 

During gameplay, two teams consisting of three to five players face each other. The game pieces, which include a set of bones and sticks, are discreetly distributed amongst the players on one team. The opposing team has to correctly guess where the bones are and how many pieces the player has in their hands. The sticks are used to keep score and the team with their bones in play, sing traditional family songs in an attempt to distract the other team from seeing where the bones end up. The team who has the correct amount of guesses wins the game and gets to advance to the next round.

 “I came out to play for the Northwest Indian College team,” says NWIC student, Mikaela ‘Miki’ Ponca-Montoya of the Osage Nation. “We held a fundraiser last week so we could register and play in the games. We’ve been practicing, we have a stick game club at the college and a bunch of people participate and came out to play. I enjoy the medicine from the games because when people are playing their songs, some of us don’t know what they mean but we proudly sing those words as they’ve been upheld for generations and generations. You can feel it when your team starts to put their medicine in the music and when they’re playing the game you can feel the energy. That, and if you win, that’s the best part!”

Smiles are shared throughout the entire weekend, even when a team is knocked out of the competition, as most people are delighted to visit with other Native people and practice the traditional game of our ancestors. 

Dancing for Snow Miracle Is Last Hope for Olympic Heritage Games

Eagle Wing DancersSierra Sun
Eagle Wing Dancers
Sierra Sun

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

Organizers of the Olympic Heritage Celebration need a miracle. Their 2014 games are in jeopardy unless it snows hard and fast.

“Two years ago, we had no snow,” said Heidi Doyle, executive director of the Sierra State Parks Foundation, one of the program sponsors. “The night after the Eagle Wings danced, I believe after all that positive energy, we got unpredicted snow,” she said in a news release.

Doyle hopes that the Eagle Wings Dancers can perform a miracle this year, as there’s been sparser than usual snowfall in and around Tahoe, California.

“It worked for Walt Disney back in 1960, we hope it will work for us in 2014,” said

Doyle in a press release. Doyle was referring to the year that Squaw Valley, California was chosen to host the Winter Olympic Games. In 1960, the organizers, including Walt Disney, were nervous because the world was about to watch the games in a place that was having an unusually dry winter season. There was barely any snowfall.

Disney, who was chairman of the Pageantry Committee, planned the opening ceremony. He brought in tribal dancers to coax the snow to fall, and after the snow dance was performed, the weather changed. More than 12 feet of snow fell and the games went on as planned. Doyle hopes that the Eagle Wings Dancers can perform a bit of magic for the third time.

The Eagle Wings formed in 2006 to keep the Native American song a dance alive. The songs and dances they perform are more than 1,000 years old and indigenous to the Paiute, Shoshone, and Washoe tribes.

“Our motto is ‘dancing in the steps of our ancestors,’” said Lois Kane, the director of the dance troupe in a news release. “We believe it is the spirit of the Old Ones that lead and guide us.” The Eagle Wing Dancers will perform in the opening ceremonies and dance in front of the iconic Tower of Nations at the park entrance of the park.

The opening ceremonies of the Olympic Heritage Celebration begin on January 11 at the Sugar Pine Point State Park in Tacoma, California. It’s a week-long series of skiing and historic commemorations that honor the Olympic games. The programs focus on the North Tahoe Olympic cultural history, as well as recreational events to promote the spirit of fair play and fitness.

Former Olympic athletes are also scheduled to attend, including Pete Wilson, a 1960 Bronze medal winner and Joseph William Tyler, who was a member of the 1980 U.S. bobsled team. Dignitaries will be on hand to light the caldron and tour the trails at the state park where the Olympic events took place 64 years ago.

“We encourage the community to join us as we honor our Olympic Heritage and dance for snow,” Doyle said.