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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

August 16, 2011 at 7:30 AM

The bone game: a teaching from the animal people

One of the oldest forms of gambling practiced by Indian people is the bone game, and Thursday the public can give it a try at Tulalip.

Also called stick game, hand game or slahal, the bone game predates recorded history and is a traditional form of trade and social networking. It’s also a gift, the tribes believe, of the animal people.

Oral tradition teaches that people originally learned bone game from the animals. Rather then watch people shed blood in disputes over hunting and fishing territory, the animals gave the people this game, to bring tribal members together.

And does it ever.

bone game.JPG

Songs are used to distract the other side during a round of bone game. Ancient, beautiful to listen to, the songs are just part of the game tradition that dates back to before recorded history, and is, tribes believe, a gift of the animals. This photo was taken at a tournament at Tulalip last year

Mark Harrison photo

A happening, an extravaganza — and a vast confusion to those who don’t know the game — this year the tournament at Tulalip is expected to draw more than 100 teams and 3,500 players, family and spectators from across the U.S. and Canada. And this year, the Tulalip Tribes invites the public to learn stick game during hourly sessions beginning at 3 p.m. Thursday.and continuing until the last session at 7 p.m

Once played for land use rights, wives, lodging and to win everything from clothing to horses and cattle, the games today are played for cash prizes — $30,000 is the top payout.

This weekend’s tournament will be hosted in a tent on the Tulalip Casino grounds. Impossible to miss, just listen for the music and be prepared to stay late into the night (bring a coat, it gets cold) if you want to watch. You might also want to bring a lawn chair.

To get a sense of the last year’s tournament, read this story in the Seattle Times.

The reservation is near Marysville, just off of Interstate 5. For more information about the tribe go to www.tulaliptribes-nsn.gov

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