In the largest gathering of hand games in years, 36 teams traveled from across the Northwest Territories, Yukon and British Columbia to compete in the Yellowknives Dene First Nation Hand Games Tournament of 100 $000.
Jessica Sangris, Language and Culture Coordinator for YKDFN, said she was proud to see her community hosting this large-scale event.
“We haven’t been able to come together like this since the pandemic started. For me right now, seeing all the people coming together, all the smiling faces, seeing people you haven’t seen in years – that’s the most fun part,” she said. .
Every night until Friday, Dettah hosts handgame players, hosts a children’s carnival, and hosts cultural events in the community, ending each night with a drum dance under the midnight sun.
Sangris said she was seeing elders she hadn’t seen in a long time and this was the first year the community had held a tournament of this scale.
Hundreds of spectators came into the community, filling the stands.
Hand games have brought many people into the community, which usually has a population of a few hundred people.
“To see my community being able to come together and put on such a massive event like this is awesome,” Sangris said.
The tournament was originally scheduled for last summer but was canceled due to COVID-19 outbreaks in the territory.
During the day, there are two games running at the same time, as well as cultural and language activities, translation services, a sewing space, and programming with the Dechinta Center for Research and Learning.
Sangris thanked everyone involved in organizing the event.
“The most rewarding part is watching the hand games and hearing the drums. It makes my heart race and I love it. Seeing my whole community come together and work like this is truly magical for me,” said said Sangris.
Leonard Kenny said the Délı̨nę teams tried to get to Yellowknife for several days, but had problems with theft – they flew in the morning of the hand games and YKDFN rearranged the games to ensure that the three teams sponsored by Délı̨nę could compete.
“We are here now and we are happy,” he said.
Kenny said these hand games were “long-standing” after years of being on the sidelines and observing travel bans.
“It was really good to see people coming together like that,” he said.
“The weather is just beautiful and I’m happy to see old friends, shake hands and say hello,” he said.
Kenny said hand games and drum dancing have always been a part of community life.
He remembers a time when the Tłı̨chǫ communities would travel to Délı̨nę in 1968 by dog sled and play hand games for five days straight.
“You see your culture and your language alive. It’s so good to see it happening now. So many young people are in it, so I’m really happy about it,” he said.
Kenny said it’s nice to have hand games in Dettah because it’s only a 20 minute drive from Yellowknife, has access to accommodations and is well organized.
“It’s all about having fun. For me, it’s not so much about winning. Meeting new people, having drum dances. The dances are going to be awesome.”
Keegan Boucher of Łutselkʼe, Northwest Territories, said his community is thrilled to have two teams fighting for each other, including an all-Marlowes team.
Boucher said the tournament means meeting parents in Dettah and Yellowknife.
Boucher said his late grandfather George Marlowe taught him how to play.
“He really wanted us to chase him down so he wouldn’t die out in Łutselkʼe. [He] helped keep it going, bring the drums back into the community, get all the kids playing. Hand games are really important. It’s fun, very fun.
“It’s a good way to release stress.”