First Peoples > Arrival of Strangers > Social Gatherings > Competitions and Gambling

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Arrival of Strangers - The Last 500 Years

Social Gatherings

Competitions and Gambling

Many Aboriginal gatherings include competitions. In the past, men competed in races, shooting, feats of strength and hunting. Women displayed sewing and porcupine quillwork. Families and communities paraded during Indian Day celebrations. Contemporary sports events are old competitions in new form.

Competitions have always included gambling. In the past, people could bet on any competitive event. Aboriginal sports and gambling are related to healing and spiritual observance. Not all modern Aboriginal sports events are religious, but many traditional sports began as sacred rites. Aboriginal people played sports and gambling games for both ceremony and pleasure.

Many Aboriginal communities continue to play sports to celebrate important events, to honour the dead; influence the weather; overcome illness, drought or sterility; and settle differences. Sports are also important for relaxation, recreation and simple competition. Aboriginal people also participate on non-Aboriginal teams and in individual sports, and many excel in these events.

Basketball Jersey - V-B-828 - CD2002-018-035 Hoop - V-A-10 - D2002-013549 - CD2002-266
(left) Basketball jersey
Apatohsi Piikunii (North Peigan)
Worn By Allan Pard
Canadian Museum of Civilization, V-B-828, CD2002-018-035

This jersey belonged to Allan Pard of Brocket, Alberta. Kainai Corrections (Stand Off, Alberta) was established to provide correctional services for the Blood Tribe. It was the first jail on a reserve in Canada. As part of a crime prevention program, it sponsored basketball tournaments to provide recreational activities for people on the weekends.

(right) Hoop for hoop and pole game
Nehiyaw (Plains Cree)
West shore of Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba
Willow and bark
Canadian Museum of Civilization, V-A-10, D2002-013549, CD2002-266

Among several Plains cultures, the hoop and pole game was one of the most widespread. Some cultures played the game as a means of calling buffalo during times of hunger.

It [the game] was played in the spring after the snow had melted, but while the ground was still hard. The hoop was a netted wheel, about a foot in diameter, made of a willow twig bent into shape and netted with rawhide thongs. A circular opening was left in the centre. Each player was equipped with a dart, a three-foot pointed stick with a small projection near the tip. Six or eight men played on a side. Each side lined up in turn and a player of the opposing side sent the hoop rolling past them. They threw their darts at it. When a player made a hit, he seized the hoop and ran after the players of the opposite side. If he succeeded in hitting one of them with the hoop, that player retired from the game. It seems that one player from the side of the man who had scored also retired from the game, although this is not certain. The last man to be touched with the hoop lost the game for his side. A hit through the centre opening was called 'heart'; if the dart caught in the mesh, it was called 'claws.'

- Harlan Smith

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