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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide
 

ALASKA NATIVE GAMES: A RESOURCE GUIDE

 

In addition to the games listed for WEIO, AWG, and NYO, the author would like to expand on and include games played by various Native people in Alaska. The games may have been played in the past, by one or more Native groups, and in various forms. However, the literature generally gives credit for invention to a particular Native group. This inventory of games is not complete, but it does give the reader some additional knowledge and information about games played by various Native groups. The purpose of this Resource Guide is to provide educators or other interested individuals activities that can be easily included and implemented within the school or recreational setting. The Native groups presented and discussed include, the Athabaskans, Eskimos (Inupiat and Yupik), Aleuts, Tlingits, Eyaks, and Haidas. The map below shows the location of the each Native group.

 

Alaska Native Language Map

 

ATHABASCAN
INUPIAQ
YUPIK
ALEUT
TLINGIT
EYAK
HAIDA

ATHABASKANS


1. SIT DOWN TUG OF WAR (Fork Yukon Young People) tug of war

Materials- Two stout sticks about three inches long attached to each other with a short length of rope.

Players- Two at a time.

Procedures- Two players sit on the floor or ground facing each other. They put the soles of their feet against each other. Each person holds one of the sticks firmly in both hands. They pull against each other until one is pulled up.

2. CARIBOU EYES (Fork Yukon Young People and Walsh)

Materials- None.

Players- Five or more.

Procedures- The group clasps hands and forms a circle around one player who is "it". "It" would place his hands on each of the other players and ask who he was. The answer is always the name of an animal. "It" would then try to break out of the circle by stepping on the toes of his captors, who would jump nimbly to avoid this. If "it" succeeded in breaking free, everyone would run after him.

3. DODGE BALL (Fork Yukon Young People and Walsh)

Materials- One small caribou (or moose) skin ball. Five inch hole in the dirt.

Players- Any number.

Procedures- Each player tries to throw the ball into the hole from five or six yards away. If a player makes it, he runs to the hole and gets the ball. All the other players run away. The one with the ball throws it at one of the players running away. If the ball hits one of these players, the one who threw it gets to spank the one the ball hits.

Variation: A large circle is made. Each player digs a small hole in the circumference. One player has a ball. He tries to roll it into one of the other player's hole. The person whose hole the ball rolls into, grabs the ball and throws it at the other players who run away. If a player is hit, he must put a pebble in the hole of the person who threw the ball. If no player is hit, every one runs after the person who threw the ball and if they catch him, they get to spank him.

4. MOOSE SKIN DRAG (Fork Yukon Young People)

Materials- Piece of moose skin. Sharpened stick for each of the players.

Players- Two to eight.

Procedures- Boys try their skill at dragging a moose skin along the ground while their cohorts chase after them with sharpened sticks trying to pin the skin to the ground, thus stopping the one who pulls it. If the boy pulling the skin gets away, he is considered very smart.

5. BROADJUMP HOP (Fork Yukon Young People and Walsh)

Materials- One short pointed stick for each player.

Players- Any number.

Procedures- A player grabs a stick in his hand. Starting from a particular place, he jumps landing on both feet. He then jumps again landing on one foot. His other foot must not touch the ground. He then hops forward landing on the same foot. He then reaches as far forward as he can and stabs his stick into the ground being careful not to lose his balance or to touch his other foot to the ground. Each player does this in turn. In the next go-around, the player leaves his stick in the ground until he completes his last hop. He then picks up his stick and moves it ahead, if he thinks he can reach further than before.

ATHABASCAN
 

ESKIMOS (INUPIAT and YUPIK)

INUPIAT


1. MAKPIGAMIMAIT (POLE PUSH) (Eger)

Materials- Wooden stick.

Players- Two players.

Procedures- Players lie down on their backs with their feet raised to hold a wooden stick between their feet. One player puts his feet in the center of the stick while the other player separates his feet one on each side of the stick. The object is to push the other player over by pushing very hard with one's feet against the stick.

pole push

2. RABBIT JUMP #2 (Walsh)

Materials- None.

Players- Any number.

Procedures- A player would jump as far as he could with both feet. Next he would jump with one foot. Next he jumped again with both feet, but landed on both hands without touching the ground with his feet. Then he jumps once more and lands with both feet.

3. TOE JUMP (Bless and Walker)

Materials- None.

Players- Any number.

Procedures- Player stands behind a line, grabbing his toes. Knees must be bent. The player jumps forward as far as he can without letting toes go and maintaining balance. Record the distance from the line.

4. SEAL SKIN SKIPPING (Bless and Walker)

Materials- Rope and seal skin ball. Tie seal skin ball in the middle of the rope.

Players- Groups of three players.

Procedures- Two players hold the ends of the rope while the third player places himself facing the seal ball. He jumps over the rope. After each successful jump, the player's body must rotate and must be facing the seal ball. The winner is the one who completes the most successful jumps.

5. PEED LE TA TUQ (Eger)

Materials- None.

Players- Any number.

Procedures- A player moves from a kneeling position to squat with a quick jump and then back to kneeling again. The contest continues in this cyclical manner until only one player is able to continue.

eger

ATHABASCAN
INUPIAQ

 

YUPIK


1. ANGKALUTN (KEEP AWAY) (Ager)

Materials- A ball.

Players- Any number from three on up.

Procedures- A ball is used as the object which one team attempts to toss back and forth to each other without letting any member of the opposite team catch it. If a member of the opposite team succeeds in catching the ball, the teams switch roles. No score is kept and there are no readily apparent field lines or boundaries.

2. CHUKI-CHUKI (Ager)

Materials- None.

Players- Even number of players.

Procedures- This is a rhyming game which also involves physical coordination. A pair holds hands facing each other and chant "chu-ki, e-mak-o-chuk, ta--le-o-chuk." At the same time, they move their linked arms in a prescribed pattern. To the first four syllables (chuki, chuki) the first player pushes his right arm forward, so that the second player's left arm goes back, and at the same time pulls his left arm back, bringing the seconds player's right arm forward. This is done 4 times. To emakochuk, one pair of arms is crossed over the other, and to talleochuk, the second pair of arms is crossed over the first. The players attempt to do this faster and faster, testing both verbal fluency and physical coordination.

3. ANAYUMIAK (BALL OVER THE ROOF) (Ager)

Materials- A ball.

Players- Seven and up (two teams).

Procedures- Two teams place themselves on opposite sides of a cache (or any building). The first team throws a ball over the roof to the opposite team, who catch it and run around the building to throw the ball at members of the first team in an attempt to hit one of them. Any player who is hit must then join the team which hit him. The teams continue to play until they are tired or until all members of one team have been taken by the opposite team.

4. ESKIMO SOLITAIRE (Ager)

Materials- Deck of cards (minus the jokers).

Players- One.

Procedures- The entire deck is laid out in 13 stacks of 4 cards each. The last card to be put down is turned face up and placed at the bottom of the stack with which it corresponds. That is, the first stack is for Aces, the seconds for 2's, the 3rd for 3's and the last for kings. If, for example the last card put down is a 7, it will be placed face up at the bottom of the seventh stack of cards. Then the top card of the seventh stack is turned up and placed at the bottom of its corresponding stack. If it is a jack, for example, it is placed face up at the bottom of the eleventh stack. This sorting process continues until all cards are in appropriate stacks. In order to really win this game, a player must finish with the kings, that is, the final card to be turned over must be a king.

5. SQUIRREL AND DOG (Ager)

Materials- None.

Players- Groups of three with two additional players.

Procedures- This is a tag game. All but two players are divided into groups of three. Two hold hands and are the "trees" while the third one stands between them and is a squirrel. The dog chases the squirrel until the squirrel runs to two trees where he is safe. The squirrel who is already there must leave and be chased by the dog. If the squirrel is caught by the dog - the squirrel then becomes the dog.

ATHABASCAN

INUPIAQ

YUPIK

 

ALEUTS


1. QUOITS GAME #2 (Walsh and Some Alaska games and how to play them)

Materials- Green cloth mat, wooden rings, and counters.

Players- Two players or two teams.

Procedures- A green cloth mat with a colored stripe represents the mat. (Traditionally a sealskin was used for a mat). Players tossed wooden rings toward the strip while sitting or squatting on the ground. Points were scored for those rings which landed closest to the stripe.

quoits game #2

2. STONES (Some Alaska games and how to play them)

Materials- Four small smooth stones.

Players- Any number.

Procedures- Toss all four stones into the air with one hand and catch them with the same hand before they hit the ground. The winner is the one who catches all four stones.

3. STICK AND BOARD GAME (Walsh and Some Alaska games and how to play them)

Materials- A thin, flat wooden board with holes carved through it, string, and wooden stick.

Players- Any number.

Procedures- Hold the stick, swing the board upwards and aim for a hole. The object is to spear one of the holes with the stick.

stick and board game

4. THROWING DISKS #1 (Walsh)

Materials- Two platforms, two otter skins, ten disks and two markers.

Players- Two to four players.

Procedures To set up the platform, a quarter inch piece of plywood is needed. The length of the platform should be about twenty inches and the width about sixteen inches. One end should be raised off the floor about five inches, and the other end is raised only about one and a half inches off the floor so that the platform is slanted. A tanned otter fur is placed on top of the platform. Then a marker, about the size of a half dollar, is placed in the center of the platform. This marker is made out of copper or anything that will stand out on the otter skin. The disks, which are tossed by the players, can be made either from moose or caribou antlers. Each disk should be a quarter inch thick and the size of a half dollar. The disks should be marked to distinguish the players. A small "x" is placed on five disks and the other five disks are marked with a larger "x" or each set can be colored differently to distinguish them. To play the game the platforms are placed on the floor twelve feet apart with the lower end facing each player. Then the otter skins are placed on the platform with the markers in the center. Then the players, kneeling on the right sides of the platform choose a set of disks, and crouched on one knee, they toss the disks aiming for the markers opposite them. The object of the game is to score ten points before the opponents. Three points are scored when a disk lands on the marker, two points are scored when the disk is touching the maker, and one point is given for the disk that is closest to the marker. Also a point can be scored it it's the only disk on the platform.

ATHABASCAN
INUPIAQ
YUPIK
ALEUT

 

TLINGITS


1. JACKSTRAWS (Walsh)

Materials- Bunch of slender sticks and a wooden hook for each player.

Players- Any number.

Procedures- The player grasps the bunch of sticks between the thumb and the forefinger of his right hand, resting one end upon the floor; then he suddenly releases them and they fall in a small heap. The players have a small wooden hook, and each in succession removes as many of the sticks as he can without moving any but the one taken. Each player keeps those he succeeds in removing, and the one holding the largest number at the end is the winner.

2. IVORY AND WOODEN DICE GAME (Some Alaska games and how to play them, Walsh, and Culin)

Materials- Chair-shaped wooden or ivory dice and 20 sticks as counters.

Players- Two players.

Procedures- The players hold the back of the "chair" and flipped it. Each player starts the game with 10 counters, the first player to get 20 counters wins the game. If the chair lands sitting up on the shortest edge the score is two. One point if it lands on one of the other three edges. When the dice falls on either side, the score is zero and the player misses his turn, which passes to his opponent. As one scores, the player takes one or two counters from his opponent's pile and adds them to his own. When it lands on its bottom, the player wins the game or if one player takes all the counters.

dice

3. BONES FOR A HAND GAME (Culin)

Materials- Four Bones.

Players- Any number.

Procedures- A gambling game and part of the paraphernalia of a shaman.

bones for a hand game

4. GAMBLING STICKS (Some Alaska games and how to play them)

Materials- Gambling sticks with at least one devilfish or octopus call naq.

Players- Two players or any number.

Procedures- There are many ways to play with the sticks. One way is for two players sit opposite each other with the naq pulled from the set. One player picks three sticks and mixes the naq and the three sticks together between burlap or cedar bark. Without looking, the sticks, are divided into two piles (two sticks per pile). The player who did not mix the sticks guesses which pile contains the naq. A second way is for seven sticks to be pulled from the set and hidden under the cloth or cedar bark. A third way is with any number of players. One player shuffles the sticks under the cloth. Then the sticks are rolled into a long piece of material. Each player then bets on which stick he thinks the dealer will pull out first. All chant the name of the stick.

5. CHESSMAN (Culin)

Materials- Twenty-two carved wooden chessmen.

Players- Two players.

Procedures- A game of chess was played with the twenty-two carved wooden chessmen.

chessman

ATHABASCAN
INUPIAQ
YUPIK
ALEUT
TLINGIT

 

EYAKS


1. STICK GAME (Birket-Smith and DeLaguna)

Materials- Two cylindrical sticks for each player which are small enough to be concealed in the hand. One stick in the set is marked with a bit of thong tied about the middle.

Players- Two teams consisting of six to fourteen players.

Procedures- The players holding the sticks would shuffle them about for a short time, their hands hidden behind their backs. Then all would hold their hands out before them, the palms closed, and one player from the opposing team would try to guess which hand held the marked stick. At the end of the guessing the sticks were passed to the opposite team. Small sticks, used as counters, were placed on the ground between the two teams. The number used depended on how long they wanted to play. If the guesser had correctly designated the hand in which the marked stick was hidden, the player holding it had to drop out. If the guesser failed, his opponents took one counter from the pile in the middle. After all the members of one team had been forced to drop out, their opponents took all the counters. A team had to win all the counters from their opponents and from the pile in the middle to win the game.

2. WOODEN DICE GAME (Some Alaska games and how to play them and Birket-Smith and DeLaguna)

Materials- Chair-shaped wooden dice.

Players- Any number.

Procedures- The players hold the back of the "chair" and flip it. Each player starts the game with 10 counters, the first player to get 20 counters wins the game. When the dice falls on its die, the score is zero. When it lands on its bottom, the player wins the game.

dice game

3. PARTNER GAME (Birket-Smith and DeLaguna)

Materials- A small shaving which was placed on a seal skin in the middle of the room. Wooden disks, two to four inches in diameter.

Players- Two pairs of partners.

Procedures- Two players sit facing each other at opposite ends of the room, the partners being divided. In turn they toss wooden disks at the shaving. The player beside the tosser watched him to prevent cheating. Points were counted according to the relative nearness of the disks thrown to the shaving. This is a gambling game.

4. SHINNY (Birket-Smith and DeLaguna)

Materials- Skinny sticks are naturally curved pieces of wood. A ball is a roughly rounded wooden block.

Players- Two teams evenly matched and containing any number of players.

Procedures- This game is played on the beach. The ball is buried in the sand. Two players, one from each team, dig up the ball with their sticks. The teams then try to drive the ball across their opponent's goal line. The field is about two or three hundred years long. There are no rules, but it is considered wrong to hit an opponent intentionally.

5. WRESTLING (Birket-Smith and DeLaguna)

Materials- None needed.

Players- Two or more groups of players.

Procedures- One form of wrestling is for two players to grab each other and try to throw each other to the ground. A second form would be to lock their middle fingers together, each struggling to straighten out the fingers of his opponent. A third form is for two players to sit on the ground with their feet braced together and try to pull each other over forward with their arms.

ATHABASCAN
INUPIAQ
YUPIK
ALEUT
TLINGIT
EYAK

 

HAIDAS


1. STICK GAME #2 (Culin)

Materials- Forty or fifty round stick (pins) or pieces of wood, five inches long by one-eighth of an inch thick, painted in black and blue rings and polished. There is also one stick entirely colored and one entirely plain. Cedar bark and a mat.

Players- Any number.

Procedures- Each player has a bunch of sticks (forty or fifty) and selects one stick (entirely colored or entirely plain). The player then takes a handful of these sticks and putting them under a quantity of finely separated cedar bark, which is as fine as tow and kept constantly near him, he divides the sticks into two parcels, which he wraps up in the bark, and passes them rapidly from hand to hand under the tow, and finally moves them round on the ground or mat on which the players are always seated, still wrapped in the fine bark, but not covered by the tow. His opponent watches every move that is made from the very first with the eagerness of a cat, and finally, by a motion of his finger, indicates which of the parcels the winning stick is in. The player, upon such indication, shakes the sticks out of the bark, and with much display and skill, throws them one by one into the space between the players till the piece wanted is reached, or else, if it is not there, to show that the game is his. The winner takes one or more sticks from his opponent's pile, and the game is decided when one wins all the sticks of the other.

2. KWAI INDAO (Culin)

Materials- A set of forty or fifty sticks, representing ten different numbers.

Players- Any number.

Procedures- The set of forty or fifty sticks are placed in a row. The blindfolded players alternately try to repeat from memory, the order in which then ten numbers run.

3. HAL HAI JAO (TURN AROUND GAME) (Culin)

Materials- Twenty or forty small sticks, six inches long.

Players- Any number of groups of two.

Procedures- The twenty or forty small sticks are taken in the palm, thrown up in the air, and caught on back of the hand. They are then thrown up again, if any are caught, and if possible an odd number caught in the palm. If an odd number - one, three, five, or seven - is caught, one stick is kept by the player, who tries again. If none or an even number is caught, the opposite player takes his turn. He who takes the last stick wins all his opponent's sticks and takes them all up and goes on as before.

4. HLKETOSGAN (JACKSTRAWS) (Culin)

Materials- Fifty to seventy-five small squared wooden splints about four inches long and a little larger than a match.

Players- Any number.

Procedures- The bundle of wooden splints are placed in a small pile crosswise on the back of the player's outstretched right hand. The player then removes his hand quickly and tries to grasp the falling sticks between his thumb and fingers, keeping his palm downward. If one or more of the sticks fall to the ground it is a miss and the next player tries. Every time a player succeeds in catching all of the falling sticks, he lays aside one of them as a counter until all are gone. Then each player counts up and the one holding the greatest number is the winner.

5. STICK GAME OF EVEN OR ODD (Culin)

Materials- Forty or fifty round pins or pieces of wood, five inches long by one-eighth of an inch thick, painted in black and blue rings and polished.

Players- Two players.

Procedures- Players spread a mat made of inner bark of the yellow cypress, on the ground. One player selecting a number of these pins, covers them up in a heap of bark cut into the fine fiberlike tow. Under cover of the bark he then divides the pins into two parcels, having taken them out, passes them several times from his right hand to his left, or the contrary. While the player shuffles he repeats the words i-e-ly-yah to a low, monotonous chant or moan. The moment he finishes the incantation his opponent, who has been silently watching him, chooses the parcel where he thinks the luck lies for odd or even. After which the second player takes his innings with his own pins and the same ceremonies. This goes on until one or the other loses all his pins.

stick game
 
ATHABASCAN
INUPIAQ
YUPIK
ALEUT
TLINGIT
EYAK
HAIDA

One must continue to remember that there are many ways in which the process of creating opportunities for students to learn in society can occur. There is no best way for ALL children to learn. Our young people are a resource, not just recipients of programs. Through cooperation and coordination, decision-making can become a shared community-school team process. This autonomous team can also share in the development of a mission statement or vision, goals, designs for how to reach these goals, and ways to monitor achievement in these goals. One must foster learning by fostering relationships. This may take "a very special kind of listening, listening that requires not only open eyes and ears, but open hearts and minds" (Delpit, 1995). Native games can be the threads that mesh learning situations into the fabric of life. The interconnection of the games with real life situations becomes the true definition of holistic learning. Together, we can become a "community of inquirers" (Fine, 1995) promoting alternative life choices for ALL students, and working collectively to speak out, be heard, and effect change.

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Last modified August 18, 2006