Handgames a hit

Drummers from Wrigley warm up before the tournament begins at the arbour on the Hay River Reserve Saturday, Aug. 2. -- Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo

Drummers from Wrigley warm up before the tournament begins at the arbour on the Hay River Reserve Saturday, Aug. 2.
— Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo

With more than 20 teams and about 600 people, the latest precursor to the K’atlodeeche First Nation’s annual assembly was an overwhelming success.

“I’m really proud of our people and our community,” said Chief Roy Fabian. “There’s been a great response, with teams coming from all over, and just people here to spectate too.”

In all, the tournament attracted about 180 players for the three days of handgames, held at the arbour on the Hay River Reserve last weekend. Fabian said they would have been more than happy with 15 teams, but the outpouring of support from all over the NWT and northern Alberta has been overwhelming.

“We would have had close to 30 if the road was open from Behchoko,” he said. “But already this many was unexpected and it’s just been great.”

Despite dashing around all weekend trying to keep things running smoothly, youth co-ordinator for KFN April Martel said it’s good to see the streets so busy.

“There’s lots of people all over town and on the reserve, and it’s just great to see how busy things are,” she said, noting that she was only helping out this year, leaving the organizing to Allan Browning.

Teams came for the $50,000 pot, but Fabian said he knows the tournament meant more to the players and spectators than money. The goal of having the handgames held before the assembly which was set to begin on Tuesday was to promote the sport as a community activity, and to some extent, a political statement.

“This is how our people would meet and learn about each other,” said Fabian. “This is part of our culture that we’ve lost and now we’re taking it back.”

Fabian described a reality of internal oppression left over from the residential school experience in which aboriginal people have, in many cases, censored themselves and intentionally left behind the ways of their people in favour of fitting into a European worldview. Fabian said he recognized the advantages and necessities of walking in both worlds, but still wants to honour traditional values and practices. Handgames, he said, are a way of doing just that.

“I have a couple of guys running the whole thing,” he said, appreciating his position of being able to sit back and watch the games unfold. “I’m a player myself, and it’s just really good to see the teams coming out and putting in all the effort.”

The first day saw no fewer than 32 games, with a decreasing number scheduled for subsequent days, as teams got eliminated. Fabian said that for Monday, the plan was to have a single space set up – as opposed to the three simultaneously occupied mats of the first day – so that all spectators could focus on the same games for the finals.

“We’ve had a great response from the community, from other communities, and from businesses here who have been very generous in their donations,” he said. “It’s going great and there’s more to come.”

Results of the tournament were not available by press time.

— Sarah Ladik