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American Indian Games

American Indian Games

Games were played by both grown-ups and children in all tribes to practice sports, music, dance, and other art forms. A lot of time was spent in making the game pieces, learning the rules, and practicing the skills of the game so they would be good at it when played. Girls and boys imitated adults as they learned the skills and behaviors they would need when they grew up.

To imitate the women in taking care of babies, little girls played with dolls made of squash or corn stalks or deerskin dolls stuffed with antelope hair with bead eyes and horsehair braids. Their grandmothers would make clothes and cradles for the dolls. Girls played several ball games using a big, soft leather ball stuffed with antelope hair. They tried to see who could kick the ball in the air the most times before it hit the ground, a game much the same as Hacky-Sack that is played today. It was said that some could keep the ball in the air for more than 100 times! Older women played this game using fancier balls decorated with porcupine quills. Women and girls also played another ball game where they used long, hooked sticks to move the ball past their opponents to a goal, which was usually two stakes in the ground.

Little boys imitated the men in the tribe by pretending they were on a real hunt. Some boys were hunters, and some boys were the animals to be hunted. They had small bows and blunt-tipped arrows made by their fathers to use to shoot at targets or small animals and birds. They also liked to get together and pretend they were raiding their own village by taking off with some meat or other food. Older boys played a game called “Follow the Bad Road.” In this game, the boys followed each other, and if one of them stumbled or fell, he would have to go to the end of the line. This game helped the boys develop strength, agility, and surefootedness. Tchung-kee was a popular sport with Mandan and Hidatsa boys and men.

Both boys and girls around the ages of 8–10 played a game called “Follow the Leader,” where the children formed a line and took hold of the shirt or dress of the child in front of them. They would march through the village singing and following the leader everywhere. Sometimes they would stop in front of other lodges to sing to the adults. This game would allow these children to get to know other places in the village that they may not have been familiar with. It also kept them in groups, thereby making it easier for the adults to watch them.