Fort Nelson Handgames Society hosting championships in collaboration with NRRM

The Fort Nelson Handgames Society is collaborating with the NRRM to host the Men’s Traditional Handgames B.C. Championship over the Canada long weekend.

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Players from Wrigley, N.W.T. wearing traditional Dene vests. ( Ryan Dickie )

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — The Fort Nelson Handgames Society is collaborating with the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality to host the Men’s Traditional Handgames B.C. Championship over the Canada Day long weekend.

The collaboration comes after the Society presented its proposal at the Regional Council Meeting last week. Fort Nelson mayor Rob Fraser said the championships are a “great idea” and “thinks it’s something the people of Fort Nelson will enjoy.”

“It’s a great opportunity for the communities to gather, learn from each other, and understand each other’s traditional cultures,” said Fraser.

According to a release from the Fort Nelson Handgames Society, traditional Dene hand games are a complex guessing game energized by the double beat of drummers supporting each team. The object is to score sticks by hiding an object in one of two hands by the opposing team’s “shooter.” The shooter indicates which hand each player is hiding their object in by using different hand gestures. To win the game, a team must win all the sticks in the match. 

Players from Trout Lake, N.W.T. taunt the opposing team’s shooter. ( Ryan Dickie )

The Society explained Dene men have played hand games for generations. Although the game has evolved in some communities to include both male and female participants, traditional men’s events have found a resurgence in communities paying homage to the old tradition. 

According to Ryan Dickie, president of the Handgames Society, anyone who is a male can enter the championships. 

“It’s for men only, but you don’t have to be Dene or Indigenous to participate,” said Dickie. 

“If you want to play hand games at this event and you’re a male between the age of 12 and older, we’ll definitely find you a team or crew if you want to join.”

Dickie says teams from all over northeast B.C., the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and northwest Alberta will make the trip to Fort Nelson for the championships.

“We’re still really trying to grow the game here and bring it back,” said Dickie.

“When I grew up, we didn’t play hand games. It was something that we nearly lost.”

The event is open to the public, and anyone is welcome to attend.  Dickie believes partnering with the municipality creates a “good opportunity for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities to come together and learn more about each other by participating in a powerful event.”

“Dene laws are based around respect, sharing, and loving one another. So, with that spirit, that’s essentially what people come to love about these types of gatherings,” said Dickie.

“It’s a good opportunity for the non-Indigenous community to see some of the better, finer, more powerful aspects of our culture, and that’s intended to strengthen our bond together as two different communities. I guess a lot of people would call it reconciliation today.”

Two teams from Wrigley, N.W.T and Behchoko, N.W.T. compete in 2019. ( Ryan Dickie )

The Handgames Society anticipates 25 teams competing in 50 matches during the championships. 

The Traditional Men’s Handgames B.C. Championships will kick off at the Northern Rockies Regional Recreation Centre over the Canada Day long weekend from June 30th to July 2nd.

 More information on the event and how to register can be found on the Fort Nelson Handgames Society’s Facebook page.

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