Jonah Caesar, Team Yukon, grimaces during the Open Male Stick Pull.
Photo By Dawn Fitzpatrick
The Dene Games, part of the Arctic Winter Games, was born from ancient tradition with each of the competitions based on activities once integral to Native village life. The Games are keeping these traditions alive with five sports being contested on the Kenai Peninsula.
Participating teams in the Dene Games include: Northwest Territories, Yukon, Alberta, Alaska and Nunavut. The Stick Pull, Snow Snake, Finger Pull, Stick Game, and Pole Push are the individual events and participants compete in each one. There are four divisions: open male, junior male, junior female and juvenile female.
The origin of the Stick Pull began as a competition of “grabbing fish out of the nets,” according to Michael McLeod, NWT Minister of Sport. Today’s version uses a stick tapered on both ends with Crisco shortening thoroughly rubbed on it. The rules require the arms to remain straight with elbows locked and the competitor must maintain a straight posture with no knee bending. The object is to pull the stick out of the other person’s grip. There are two separate pulls, one for each hand, and the stick must stay level with no jerking allowing during the pull.
McLeod is here cheering on his two daughters who are competing. Shawna, 14-years-old, was the Silver Ulu winner in the Snow Snake and Devin, 15-years-old, won the Gold Ulu in the Stick Pull.
Although she has many years of competing in the Inuit games, this is the first Dene games for Brianna Goins, a 14-year-old with Team Alaska, who is from Ninilchik, a small village 40 miles south of Soldotna. She was picked at the Peninsula Winter Games in January to join Team Alaska and has driven four hours each of the last five Wednesdays to be coached in Anchorage.
“My favorite Dene event is the Snowsnake,” said Brianna. She feels “with practice she could get good at it.”
“She was nominated to carry the flag in the opening ceremonies for her leadership skills and ability to work with the coaches,” said her coach, Amanda Attla.
Kyle Benjamin, Team Yukon, is 15-years-old and is “participating for his 2nd time,” according to his mother, Kim Blake. “He’s having a good time and not missing me at all.”
The family is from Old Crow, Yukon, an area only accessible by air. Benjamin’s first time entering the Dene Games was in Wood Buffalo/ Fort McMurray, Alberta, two years ago.
“I’m having lots of fun,” was the reaction of Margaret Tukkiapik, a 15-year-old participant form Nunavut. She has been in several other competitions in Nunavut.
In part due to the Games, Dene ancient traditions are alive and well, and being embodied and embraced by our youth. Native elders should be proud.
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