“What kind of games did we play back in the day?”
That’s the question a group of Native middle school students asked that started the International Traditional Games Society (ITGS) in Great Falls, MT. When their teacher didn’t know the answer, the students turned to religious leaders and others in their community to better understand their tribe’s cultural heritage. Today, ITGS teaches over a hundred traditional games from tribes across Montana and Southern Alberta Canada so that youth today no longer have to ask this question.
To promote the use of these games, ITGS offers clinics to certify “traditional games” instructors. Once certified, instructors can then bring the games, as well as an understanding of their cultural significance, to their own parks, museums, and tribal programs, causing a ripple effect of cultural preservation to communities across the region.
These games are more than just a chance to gather and share in joyful heritage together. They also teach life skills such as intuition, listening, and conflict resolution. For example, one game from the Assinboine tradition involves drawing sticks out of a person’s closed fist, trying to draw the stick that is marked on the bottom. Though at first this is a game of intuition, it soon becomes a game of observation once the marked stick is visible. Another game from the Blackfeet tribe involves moving river stones from one lodge to another with as little disruption as possible, placing the stones in the new lodge exactly as they were found in the first lodge. When played over time and with community, this game develops respect for stones and the natural world while fostering the skills of care and precision.
“The games are an attempt to bring us back to a place of centeredness, a place of groundedness, a place of natural healing and natural competition,” says one Blackfeet Community College member.
ITGS also offers horse riding clinics, cultural presentations, game tournaments, and other special events to encourage the active use of indigenous culture today. These traditions, shaped by the cultural imagination and wisdom of generations past, breathe new life into Native and non-Native communities of our region, honoring and preserving a rich past for the sake of a brighter future.
The Murdock Trust has been grateful to support ITGS with two grants since 2011, both for new staff positions as the organizations grows in capacity and impact. This is part of $10.8 million in grants the Trust has made to organizations serving Native communities since 2010.
At a time when Native communities are at risk of losing their arts, culture, and language, organizations like ITGS, as well as the many other organizations in our region working to honor and preserve indigenous culture, are critical. The Murdock Trust is truly thankful to be a partner in this important work.
Thank you, ITGS!