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Roll them seal bones

Kent Driscoll
Northern News Services

Gjoa Haven (July 18/05) - Bones are rolling in Gjoa Haven, and youth and elders are having a grand time playing a traditional Inuit game.

The players sit in a circle around a table with a pile of seal flipper bones in front of them. One of those bones acts as a die.

One player starts by picking a handful of bones, including the die, and tosses them on the table.

Each of the bones has a meaning. They can represent people, food, dogs, sleds, polar bears, iglus and seals.

If a bone lands facing the opposite way as the die, the player gets to keep it and put them it in his iglu, which acts as a scorekeeper.

When the die bone is up and the seal bone is down, you have just caught a seal.

If you have enough seals and not enough food, then the sharing begins.

Players use other bones not in play to make designs, such as the storage iglu. They need some of each kind of bone to fill the iglu and thus win the game.

"Some of them try to get the most bones, but sometimes, they just give them away," said Leonie Aaluk, who has been gathering youth and elders together at the community hall so the elders can pass on games like this to youth.

The bones may look identical to the untrained eye, but not to the Gjoa Haven elders.

"Those elders can tell. They each have a little bit of a difference," said Aaluk.

The bones were brought in by hunters, and then the real work began.

They were cooked, boiled, cleared of fur and then cleaned. The bones from one flipper make up a complete set.

"Games are always important for us Inuit. Winter is so long and summer is so short, whenever there are activities, everyone joins in," said Aaluk.

Last year, Aaluk brought in youth to learn about Inuit clothing from the elders. Now the games are a big hit.

"We just started. We are trying to get them together two or three times a week," Aaluk said.

When you are having fun, learning doesn't seem like such a chore.

"We don't want the youth to forget how we used to play. They like to be with the elders when the elders are having fun," said Aaluk.