Dene Hand Games: more than just a slight of hand

Forty teams from the Northwest Territories, the Yukon and northern Alberta converged on Behchoko, NWT, on March 16, 17 and 18, 2012 to take part in the annual Canadian Aboriginal Men’s Hand Game tournament. Behchoko is a Dene community located about 100 km northwest of territorial capital Yellowknife.

The teams compete by trying to guess in which hand the opposing team players hold a token. The players, backed by a cheerleading group of drummers, use elaborate hand gestures to confuse the opponents and to call the play.

Accompanied by deafening drumming and rhythmic chanting, the opposing teams take turns at hiding tokens and guessing in which hand the players from the other team have hidden the tokens.

In the past Dene hunters played this game for matches, ammunition or pelts. These days the winners walk out with a large cash prize.

For more on the rules of the hand game, click here.

Levon Sevunts, Radio Canada International

Born and raised in Armenia, Levon started his journalistic career in 1990, covering wars and civil strife in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 1992, after the government in Armenia shut down the TV program he was working for, Levon immigrated to Canada. He learned English and eventually went back to journalism, working first in print and then in broadcasting. Levon’s journalistic assignments have taken him from the High Arctic to Sahara and the killing fields of Darfur, from the streets of Montreal to the snow-capped mountaintops of Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. He says, “But best of all, I’ve been privileged to tell the stories of hundreds of people who’ve generously opened up their homes, refugee tents and their hearts to me.”

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