Nunavut children wear 'big smiles' after learning about Dene hand games
'She just had the biggest smile on her face that she had accomplished something so big'
Dene games are bringing Inuit kids, elders and even military officers together in High Arctic communities.
The Aboriginal Sports Circle NWT, a sports organization, recently left the Northwest Territories to run programs in Nunavut for the first time.
Last week, Dene and Inuvialuit recreation instructors travelled for two days to get to the hamlet of Grise Fiord, which has a population of about 130 people.
For a few days, the group taught Dene hand games to children during school hours, and the whole community in the evenings. Each game came with a short history lesson.
"As a Dene person, I was very proud to teach our games to the Inuit people. And they loved it," said Carson Roche, program co-ordinator with the sports circle.
Maybe one day he'll represent Nunavut in Arctic Winter Games.- Carson Roche, Aboriginal Sports Circle NWT
Some of the top favourite Dene games were stick pull, finger pull and snow snake, said Roche.
Roche said he also taught some Inuit games and for a lot of the younger Inuit, it was their first time playing them.
"We noticed asking them about their own games, they don't play much of their own games," said Roche.
"So us coming in and showing them [Inuit] games meant a lot to them."
That was particularly true for Grade 10 student David Jr. Watsko, who said he was at almost every session last week.
Watsko said learning the history behind some of the Inuit games was special for him.
"Our culture is kinda fading away — like our language is going, our games are going, our clothing is going," said Watsko.
"So it brought us back to how our people used to live out there and how they used to have fun and play games."
People 'really, really excited'
Allison Jacobson, Grise Fiord's recreation co-ordinator, said people in the community were "really, really excited about it."
She said almost half the community came to the events, and even generations of families showed up together from grandparents to grandkids.
Jacobson said these kinds of programs haven't run in Grise Fiord "in a really long time."
"They wanted to keep culture continuing and ... this is such a great way to help teach the next generation," she said.
"One of our youth, during her first gym class had said, 'I can't do this, I'm too shy, I don't think I can do this."
Two days later, she won first place in the kids tournament.
"She just had the biggest smile on her face that she had accomplished something so big."
Roche recalled one particular boy who came out with his father. The youth tried the one-foot high kick for the first time.
"And the next thing you know, he's kicking seven foot five inches," said Roche. "All the other kids were cheering him on ... Maybe one day he'll represent Nunavut in Arctic Winter Games."
Roche and Byron Kotokak, the organization's Arctic sports instructor, also made a pit stop in Resolute Bay afterward and ran the same programs there. That's where about 20 military officers joined the community and learned together.
Roche said he hopes to share his passion in more places.
"I'll go anywhere and teach these games across Canada if I have to," he said.