These games were found through oral traditions, ethnology reports written before 1900 A.D., or written descriptions from the early 1900's.
These games have been researched and accepted by many tribes over the past 12 years. Blackfeet, Salish, Kootenai, Chippewea, Cree, Sioux, White Clay, Little Shell, Pend d'Oreille, and tribes of Southern Alberta. Reference to several of these tribes are present in Clark's journals.
In 1999, the International Traditional Games Society was formed by cultural directors, tribal college presidents and spiritual leaders.
During our annual summer traditional games camp, we are introduced to new games which then become part of the games society. The games are transferred much like the way they were shared and lead during the summer gatherings of bands and clans for thousands of years.
Traditional American Indian Games
Many children and adults are losing their abilities of keen observation and natural intuition. Perhaps these skills are just as important in the world today as they were in the natural environment of two hundred years ago. The games presented here for approval are some of the old games that teach these skills.
Health and fitness opportunities are not always available, and then mostly to youth in schools. Long ago the native games were still played by adults in their forty's and fifty's.
Native American life, two hundred years ago, was rich in relationships, teamwork, art, music, dance and gaming. It was through games that much education occurred.
The social values of the traditional games were...and still are...highly important:
Honoring the person who gave you the most challenge,
Respecting the rules of the competition,
Respecting your competitors,
Honoring the wager you made before the event,
Having courage, intuition, or skill,
Being humble even when winning.
Years ago, all tribes admired persons of superior skills, in strength, stamina, or dexterity because the games helped keep all the people healthy and strong. The games were the way of passing on techniques of the hunt, tribal customs, spiritual ways, social skill.
Most important, were the games of intuition and chance, played by all ages, with the elderly being the best. Even the youngest learned observation, sensing, and intuitive skills to increase awareness of their surroundings. Safety of everyone often depended upon intuition or extraordinary visioning.
The young and the strong competed against each other with the help of older tribal members who coached them. Cooperation was the essence of all sports. The best players held a traditional place of honor in the communities. Almost everyone played the games depending on the age and type of activity. Young people played the most rigorous games of strength and endurance. The elders advised the young how to be good at the skills they were trying to learn. The elders also played their own games of intuition and chance. The players of these games always got better with age.
Everyone was encouraged to participate in the spirit of the games. Prayers in which players asked for power and reward for their efforts were an important part of the gaming ways.
Sometimes the clans and tribes would gather for days, fasting, praying, and playing the most exciting games. Many goods were exchanged in the bets for winning and losing in the adults competitions. The children also wagered for the games they played but this was not as common as the adult wagers.
The most important aspect of all games was the development of the natural physical and mental skills of the people. This was highly integrated into the spiritual beliefs as well, combining the efforts of mind, body and spirit. Prayers by all members helped the players to give their best to the competitions.
Traditional American Indian Games Role Today
When modern people go to summer culture activities such as pow wows, horse events, or Sun Dances, the youth get restless. They want basketball courts, fancy equipment, or game-boy devices. Yet everything they need to play outdoors in the summer is provided by nature. The equipment can easily made and the games can be played anywhere.
Traditional Indian Games Production
These games are all hand made - the games are handmade by artisans from varies Montana tribes for the Traditional Games Society.
The sticks, rings and pegs are willow. Each is unique to the characteristics of the wood from "Grandfather" sticks to young green sticks. Artificial sinew is used for wrapping and string.
Rocks are gathered from Montana mountain streams. They are hand painted with Indian pictographs each of its own message.
Sticks are uniquely rough hand carved in ancient Indian symbols.
Adornments on game pieces and fleece carrying pouches are of dyed split hides, bleached bones, sticks, ribbons and beads. Game pieces and pouches vary and are adorned with one or more decorations.
Honoring & Teaching Traditional Native Games A Means For The Survival Of First Nation People's Culture