Ojibwe Winter Games Much More Than Games

Children learn skills tied to history and ancestors

Winter is what you make of it. And for Native Americans, it is an important time for their culture.

That was on full display Friday in the cold and sunshine of February. It was the Ojibwe Winter Games at UMD’s Bagley Nature Area. In the form of very specific and unique games, school children were learning skills that native ancestors used for taking game and gathering what they needed to eat.

Wayne Valliere, is the Director of Ojibwe Language and Culture at the Lac du Flambeau Public School.

“All these games refer to the ability to throw, making them experts at pulling and pushing from our various hunting and gathering techniques,” Valliere said. “Pulling whitefish out of a net, to pulling a musky up off a spear. Harpooning–all these things–these games, are in the hunt. In early times they taught our kids, they trained them to be hunters-gatherers. Experts in archery and throwing. And the shape you’ve got to be in, to be in the bush and to survive.”

One game is known as snow snake tossing. A wooden stick is chosen, shaped into a spear, and used in a game designed to develop throwing skills. But Valliere says each element of the game has a purpose beyond the game itself.

“The different environments that we take our young people to show them these games don’t start with just throwing a spear,” Valliere said. “The games start in the woods where the tree grows,  where the spears are made from. And the deeper meaning and understanding of those environments as Anishinaabe people. So that they’re protected for generations ahead.”

Valliere says the games started twelve years ago. He said they were generated, in part, by a frustration shared by all parents–children spending too much time indoors looking at an electronic screen.


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