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Teams try to trick each other in Dene hand games

By Heather Hintze 9:16 PM March 19, 2014

Teams hide tokens; try to distract opponents with movement and music.

FAIRBANKS - Rhythmic drumming took over the Hering Auditorium in Fairbanks Wednesday as teams tried to outfox each other at the Dene hand games.

“It’s so fun,” said Olivia Shields from Team Alaska. “Especially when you’re winning of course. It’s so fun getting to bond with your team and you win some, you lose some, but I feel like we connect a lot more when we’re playing together.”

The four players on a team passed a token back and forth, trying to hide it from their opponents. Keeping track of it isn’t easy.

“The spirit of the drums and the spirit of the fakes and the movement that you see distracts how that person has hidden that small object,” said Chris Anderson, a Dene games official. “There are 12 sticks and the team that wins all 12 sticks wins the first match. Best two out of three.”

Girls with painted faces bounced up and down, shaking their head and hands to the music.

The hand games have a rich history, not only in Alaska but all around the Arctic.

“It was usually played after a successful hunt out on the ice or tundra. They carve up the carry and bring it back to camp. At night when everything is finished they’ll have games,” Anderson explained.  “The best players in old times go on for eight or nine hours.”

“It’s a way without having to talk to each other, to get to know each other and break the ice. So it was really a game to get closer to people without actually having to speak,” said Brian Walker II from Team Alaska.

Competitors are glad the hand games are included at the Arctic Winter Games to celebrate the traditional values from each culture.

“You get down, get into it and start dancing and just have fun,” Walker said. “That’s what this game is about is just having fun.”

It’s not only fun to keep your opponents guessing, but to dance along with the drumming that’s been a part of the game for generations.

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