By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
For many students at Box Elder School, traditional Native American games are entirely new. They had an opportunity to learn six traditional games Thursday, when representatives of the International Traditional Games Society visited the school.
Fifth-grader John Gardipee said he had never played any of the games before.
His favorite was a game called spear the whale, in which a teacher would roll a hoop strung with mesh netting past a row of students. Each child would throw a stick and try to get their stick into the hoop as it rolled past.
Gardipee said the game was difficult. He wasn't sure he ever got his stick to stay in the hoop, but was excited to brag for one of his classmates who had made it two times, once in the center.
Games Society presenters taught the kids a variety of games. One was a precursor to modern ice hockey, one lacrosse, while others, like spear the whale, have no modern successor.
The games society began in Montana, with the research of Browning students. In 1997, the society formed to continue and expand on the students' work and share the rediscovered games.
Presenter and society grant writer DeeAnna Leader, who is director of Indian education at Great Falls Public Schools, explained that each game hones a different set of skills. Some games help build an agile body, others, an agile mind.
In the shell game, a student has to align three river rocks and then move them to another location and put them down in the exact same formation, with the same distance between them. The rocks the students used were painted and had pictures to make them easier to remember, but Leader said that when the game was played in the past, the Native American children would not have used painted stones. More accustomed to observing the physical world, the children would rely on observing the natural differences between the rocks.
As fifth-grader Taneal Sutherland played the game, she was very careful to align the rocks perfectly even after she got the last rock to the end line. She did not say she had finished until she had adjusted the rocks several times.
This month, three games society representatives are traveling to each Montana reservation school to teach the games. Today they will be at Rocky Boy Public Schools and next week, on Thursday and Friday, at Hays-Lodge Pole Public Schools.
The society will hold a tribal games event from June 27 to July 3 at the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commemoration in Great Falls.
Society officer Ken Bruno said that besides teaching the games, the goal of the society is to keep the kids playing.
"When you tell your parents and grandparents about these games, they may not know them," Leader explained to a seventh-grade class that arrived for their turn in the Box Elder gym.
The games were nearly lost after a couple generations of Native American children were sent to missions schools, she told them.
Bruno said the games have historical value, but also practical value. He hopes that the reintroduction of traditional games will get both children and adults to be more active and help prevent diabetes and obesity.
Society president Henry Anderson is traveling with Leader and Bruno to visit Montana schools. He said he believes that even the brief introduction they provide will be enough to get the students playing.