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Hundreds play traditional games
Snow snake, stick pull and one-foot high kick featured at summit

Shawn Giilck
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, February 27, 2014

The second annual Northern-Dene Games Summit at East Three Secondary School showed there is a future for tradition.

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Chris Church won the senior male one-foot high kick at the Northern-Dene Games Summit competition last week at East Three Secondary School with the height of eight feet, six inches, well below his personal best of nine feet, one inch. - Shawn Giilck/NNSL photo

Students from around the Beaufort Delta gathered at the school from Feb. 17 to 19 for a regional competition that reaches into the past for inspiration.

Sharla Greenland, one of the organizers of the two-day competition, said "the whole idea is about promoting and preserving the culture of our region.

"We want to promote the skills of the games, but also the values that come with it," she said. "The number one goal of the Beaufort Delta Education Council, and one of its mandates, is preservation of culture, and that's the drive behind it."

The Northern Games, she explained, are centred on the Inuvialuit traditions.

"There's a lot of strength and agility games, which originated in the harsh climate of the Inuvialuit's traditional area. A lot of the games were created to keep warm and to strengthen the body for the harsh climate and lifestyle.

"The Dene games that we had here are the snow snake, which is a cultural practice derived from spearing and hunting animals, and also the stick pull. They are two of the most popular Dene games."

Greenland said the Northern games are more familiar and common in the region, although the Dene games are beginning to make "a huge comeback."

The renaissance of those games began further south in the NWT, and have been slowly making inroads in the Delta region, Greenland said.

"The kids definitely do enjoy the stick pull and the snow snake. It's some of their favourites," she added. "As the years go by, we hope to bring a lot more Dene games in."

Peter Lennie, who helped run the snow snake competition, said there are many more Dene games which are typically played outside. Seasonal temperatures finally arriving this week put a limit on the snow snake competition, he said, and would somewhat hinder any other games they might have tried.

The games attracted 111 students and chaperones to Inuvik from the communities, Greenland said. Another 200 or so from the East Three schools also took part.

"That's definitely a few more than last year, and I considered this to be a huge success."

Colin Pybus, a physical education teacher at East Three, was also pleased to be part of the summit. He had spent the last few weeks working with his students on mastering the games.

"Within the physical education classes, we've been working with the students for about the last two weeks on preparation and practising and learning different games," Pybus said.

"We've been giving them a wide breadth while concentrating on the ones they're competing with today. For the most part they've been very receptive to the idea, and you see the energy they're bringing to the competitive side of things," he said.

"There's an argument to be made that these are more traditional than the sports they are typically looking to play. To be able to promote traditional culture and indigenous games within the classroom is definitely a focus of the school, as well as being economical. To be able to get them away from things like basketball is ultimately only going to help them improve their physical skills and hopefully connect them to some of their cultural and traditional roots as well."

Chris Church, a star East Three athlete who recently tied the Canadian record in the one-foot high kick at the Arctic Winter Games trials, managed to reach eight feet, six inches at this competition.

All other activities ceased as he took a run at matching that personal best, with the audience chanting and cheering, plainly hoping to see a little history made.

"I'm a little disappointed I let the crowd down," a subdued Church said afterwards, alluding to the pressure he felt.

A younger participant, Erik Kudlak, plainly drew some inspiration from the older athletes like Church.

He said the games "challenged him" to "see how far I can go."

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