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A tradition begins in Fort Liard
First ever Handgames Tournament and Fall Gathering kicks off with great success

Elaine Anselmi
Northern News Services
Friday, August 28, 2015

A new handgames tournament has made its debut in the Deh Cho.

NNSL photo/graphic

The handgames tournament in Fort Liard brought out teams from across the territory and beyond, including Fort Providence, Fort Simpson, Behchoko and Fort Nelson, B.C. - photo courtesy of Hillary Deneron

Intended to be repeated annually, the Fort Liard Handgames Tournament and Fall Gathering was inspired by the organizer's experience at similar events in other communities.

"Last year was the first year that I've been to a handgames tournament - they had one in Fort Simpson - so I had been to that and at the time I attended my dad was sick and I was kind of depressed," explained event co-ordinator Hillary Deneron.

"The feeling it gave me, the happiness (of) seeing all of the people come together and watching the handgames themselves, watching everyone get into it, especially to see the youth and the elders, it really touched me."

The event was something she thought Fort Liard would be fit to host and with funding from local businesses and the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, she and a handful of volunteers made it happen.

"It was tough. I went to bed at 2 a.m. and woke up every morning at 7 a.m.," Deneron said of the three-day event that wrapped up on Aug. 23.

"It was definitely worth it. There were times when I was getting run down and frustrated, but the look on peoples faces, the happiness, it was well worth it."

Up until about five years ago, the community hosted the Petitot River Gathering about a half-hour out of town. Now, Nahendeh MLA Kevin Menicoche said this event is a great opportunity for gathering that is more accessible for elders.

"It was a really positive event, it brought the community together," said Menicoche.

"Even though the focus was handgames, it was evening events of drumdancing, (musician) Johnny Landry being there, right into the church service Sunday morning. It was incredible, it continued the positive spirit of being together and celebrating culture."

As well as the handgames - which brought in teams from Fort Nelson, B.C., Fort Providence, Behchoko and beyond - workshops ran throughout the weekend making crafts such as birch bark ornaments, moosehide dreamcatchers and beaded earrings. There was also a flea market all day on Aug. 22 and a culture camp set up in the community arbour. It was a "bush camp environment" that Deneron said offered a wide variety of traditional foods including a moose freshly hunted by Chief Harry Deneron.

"People could snack and sit around and talk to relatives and friends that they haven't seen in a long time," said Menicoche, adding that he is certainly looking forward to the second annual event.

NWT Senator Nick Sibbeston was in town for the gathering, stopping in on Aug. 23 to translate the entire church service into South Slavey.

"I think it's always good when you use your Dene language," Sibbeston said. "There are a lot of elders that don't understand and so when somebody is able to speak to them purely in their own language, it's very good, very uplifting, very happy."

Sibbeston said the tournament was a great occasion to bring people from around the territory into the community, and to bring back the handgames that he said haven't been played en masse in the community since the 1970s.

"I was really impressed and I thought it was really well organized, and the young people in the community seemed to be very involved in all aspects, and in the games themselves," said Sibbeston.

"It was pretty impressive to see. I went away from there really happy for things."

Deneron said involving youth in the event is very important, particularly in offering a more positive outlet than the use of drugs or alcohol.

"I see a lot of it starting at young age in the community - kids as young as 11, 12 or 13 - whether it be starting to smoke cigarettes or get into drugs and alcohol," said Deneron.

"There's so much more out there, especially within our culture."

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