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Traditional games uphold nations' cultures

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GREAT FALLS, Mont. - Shinney, lacrosse, ring the stick, arrow throw, run
and scream; they're all part of American Indian history, games played long
before basketball was invented. All these and more were played during a
recent gathering in Great Falls.

The International Traditional Games Society was established in 1997,
involving cultural directors from each of Montana's seven reservations. The
first International Traditional Games was held in 1999 and it's been held
most years since. More than 25 games have been revived, some nearly lost
over the past decades, to maintain that aspect of culture and for inclusion
in schools and ceremonial events. The event this year was held in
conjunction with an Indian encampment and pow wow during the same week in
which Lewis and Clark anniversary activities took place as another way of
introducing Indian culture and including the Indian perspective to the

Arleen Adams, Salish/Kootenai, serves on the International Tribal Games
Society (ITGS). She's taught school for 15 years and found some of the
games have worked well to build self-esteem and energy, and to teach
youngsters to work together. Ken Bruno, Chippewa/Cree, another committee
member, worked with young boys in the prisoner game in which they are
loosely roped together and must work together to separate themselves.
Arleen commented that the game was a good way to quiet youngsters wanting
to roughhouse or fight, and she'd often used it in class.

Jim Higgins, Blackfeet, was working with other youngsters in a game
resembling jacks but which is played with rocks. The idea is to toss a
stone in the air and pick up one from the ground, and catch the stone in
the air, proceeding to pick up two, then three, until you can't do any

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Others practiced the arrow throw, where slightly weighted arrows are tossed
some distance with the object being to have it land closest to the target,
an arrow stuck in the ground. On the reservation it's sometimes played for
big prizes, but here it was primarily for demonstration. Horse racing and
atlatl were being contested in other areas.

Across from the games, an encampment had been set up with a number of
tipis, each one erected by a different tribe and open so visitors could
enter and view cultural items. In the center, surrounded by the tipis,
various activities took place nearly nonstop for several days. Encampment
director Clint Brown, Gros Ventre, kept things moving while introducing the
various activities.

The Badland Junior Singers, from Brockton, performed, and dancers from the
Crow Reservation demonstrated various types of dances. Other speakers came
to share tribal history, language, music, songs and storytellers. Tom
Christian, Assiniboine, entertained the crowd with his humor and story
telling. Christian commented, "Our people are always laughing and enjoying
themselves. As Indian people we don't have much, but what little we have
we're not afraid to share it. Sometimes that sharing is just a smile and a
handshake or a good story."

Brown is a member of the Montana Tribal Tourism Board. "The idea was to
bring [together] the culture and history of all the tribes here in Montana
from the days of Lewis and Clark up until today. We want to share those
things with the non-Natives and Natives as well." Brown also travels with
the National Park Service to introduce non-Natives to Indian culture.