Engage: Play as a form of decolonization

Uarhukua is an ancient game that resembles modern day street hockey but was played by indigenous people in South Western Mexico 3,000 years ago. Ancient Mesoamericans invented rubber balls from the indigenous rubber tree. Archaeologists have found a dozen balls in the Olmec El Manati sacrificial bog that dated to roughly 1600 BCE.

The World Indigenous Games featured Uarkukua as a competitive international sport. There is a resurgence and re-emergence of these ancient games amongst the Purépecha people and indigenous people worldwide. The next indigenous games will be held in 2017 in Canada.

Here at Six Nations Grand River Territory we also have our share of ancient games such as the Creators Game known in Canada as lacrosse. Some of our elders may remember ding ball or double ball which is a similar game with slightly different rules.

The history of games goes back to the Haudenosaunee creation story. Although accounts may vary it seems that the Good Twin and the Evil Twin used games as a tool for conflict resolution. We look forward to hearing about the historical relevance of games in Haudenosaunee culture from elders and local historians in this month long project.

Haudenosaunee means ‘People of the longhouse.’ We have a legacy of a unique type of longhouse culture. What this means is that our society in the past had large, permanent, multifamily homes. In contrast the indigenous people of the plains lived in teepees which were tents specifically developed for a migratory hunting society.

The Haudenosaunee people were geographically located in what is now known as Upper NY State and the winters have always been long and frigid. This means our society would have spent many months under snow and winter games such as snow snake would have been an important aspect of our culture. Playing games would have been more than a past-time but an integral part of our lives.

Indigenous people are still alive and flourishing. Hollywood stereotypes are damaging because they relegate us as an extinct people of the past. Academics call this stereotype the “Fly in Amber Indian” because North American society wants to keep us trapped as the romanticized noble savage they are comfortable with. But indigenous people survive and adapt.

Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert, one of the first Dutch visitors to Haudenosaunee Territory in 1630 was disappointed to see iron hinges and nails already in use. We have always been adaptable and innovative. Today in modern North American society, indigenous people develop websites, host internet services, program apps and even publish newspapers.
It’s our hope that after analyzing the importance of play in our society we can engage our youth and meet them on their terms. On every reserve are thousands of children playing the Minecraft video game and they are desperately seeking an avenue to share their stories and creations with the community at large. They want to connect and we want to facilitate that.

We believe that modern games and traditional games can bring our families back together.

With so many youth drawn to activism and anti-colonial resistance a philosophical question has arisen. After capitalism has been defeated and utopian society re-emerges on this continent what is left for our society to pursue?

The idea of success and happiness has always been viewed through a Eurocentric lens in post-colonial North America. But if our Haudenosaunee roots have any relevance today then perhaps there is room to view the idea of gameplay as more than just a waste of time.

With the launch of ENGAGE, we are hoping to explore the value and importance of games in our society and how playing together creates a stronger family and community. Engage with us by writing in and sharing a family game that you play – something that other families may not know about.

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