Northern-style hand games debut at the Alberta Indigenous Games 2021

Youth sit on blankets getting ready to play hand games
Northern-style hand games set to play for first time at the Alberta Indigenous Games 2021. Photo by Bealique Kahmahkotayo.
Bealique Kahmahkotayo - - EdmontonAL | 17-08-2021
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​On Monday, Alberta Indigenous Games 2021 participants competed in golf, beach volleyball, cross-country running and hand games, the very old traditional Indigenous guessing game.
This is the first time that hand games have been part of the Indigenous Games.

Caroline Isadore is the hand games coordinator from Driftpile Cree Nation, located about three-and-a-half hours north of Edmonton. Isadore says she is excited that hand games have been incorporated into the Games.
“This is the first year for that, it’s going to be tournament style, normally a tournament for northern style hand game is about two days in total. We are going to see if we can do that
by a mini-style tournament and get it over and done with by end of day."

Hand games is also known as “the stick game,” where a small item, like a stone or a coin, is concealed in the hands of one team, while the opposing team guesses where the item is hidden.
It’s an exciting event for players and spectators. The hand drum is played with enthusiasm, and people sing loudly while one team tries to distract the opposing team while the small items are

Isadore explains the Northern-style hand games rules further.
“Made up of a team of six individuals on each team, those teams will play what’s known to us as Northern-style hand games. On each team, we have what’s called a hand games
shooter, one hand game shooter per team, and then all the rest, of course all the them hide an object in one or the other, of each hand. One object is hidden, we have a shooter on the
other side, and those hand signals will determine how many opposing members are eliminated through the proper hand games shot.”

Isadore says, ‘whoever gets the hand game sticks wins the ‘best out of three’ match.’ 

“On a six-man team, Northern-style, you have thirteen sticks, those sticks are something you’re trying to obtain from the team, so in order to do that, like I said earlier, each of the
individual, all six of them, will have what’s referred to them as a hider, they will have this hider, can be anything from a dime, something small object in their hands. They have a
shooter on the opposing side, that shooter will shoot the certain individual’s signals, once we determine how many are left, that will determine how many sticks that team will get.”


Nineteen-year-old Reanna Whiteknife is from Fort McKay First Nation by Fort McMurray. She is one of the participants of the hand games at this year’s Games and has been playing since she
was eight or nine-years-old, maybe even younger. Whiteknife says four different hand signals are allowed to be used during the game. She says “once the shooter calls the hand, all individuals open
their hands to make sure no one else has any item remaining in their hand. They put the sticks on that side of the team.

Whiteknife once traveled to Alaska and played hand games at the Arctic Winter games and won silver. She said she was excited to play on Monday.
“It’s so much fun, it gets really intense, everybody, it’s so much fun when you go to these tournaments, like I love it!”


Isadore says the Northern-style hand games was gifted to their community by Northern Tall Cree. The players are youth between the ages of 13 and 21. It started off as a man’s game, she added,
and slowly over time women started to get involved.

In the olden days, according to Wikipedia, disagreements would be settled by playing hand games.

Isadore says the first place team wins a lawn chair, gift cards from Subway and McDonalds and a water bottle; second place receives a cooler, water bottles and gift cards, and third place will
receive a small hiding blanket, water bottle and a gift card.

Isadore acknowledges games organizers for incorporating hand games into the summer event.
“I just want to say kudos to our AIG staff and for the people that are interested in a wonderful traditional game that we can definitely carry on for our ancestors.”


For further information on the Alberta Indigenous Games, check
out their website at or their Facebook page.

For complete story, play the audio below.