60 teams eye $100K in prizes at Dene hand games in Northwest Territories

Opposing team captains use elaborate hand gestures to call the play. March 2012, Behchoko, N.W.T. (Levon Sevunts/Eye on the Arctic)
Dozens of teams from across northwestern Canada have congregated in the small community of Behchoko in the Northwest Territories to compete in the 12th annual Ediwa Weyallon hand games tournament.

With $100,000 in prizes this year’s tournament is being billed by organizers as the largest ever and has attracted up to 60 teams from Dene communities in the N.W.T, Yukon and northern Alberta. Behchoko, located about 100 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife, the capital of the N.W.T., is a Dene community with about 2,000 residents.

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. The winning team will take home $30,000, with the remaining prize money shared among next seven finishers. The tournament ends on Sunday.

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

Players in action
Watch our slide show from the Dene Hand Games in Behchoko, Northwest Territories, shot in March 2012.

Opposing team captains use elaborate hand gestures to call the play. Photo by Levon Sevunts
Hand game players use elaborate hand gestures to confuse the opponents and to call the play. Photo by Levon Sevunts
Drumming is a big part of the games. Each team has its own group of drummers. Photo by Levon Sevunts
Hand game players use elaborate hand gestures to confuse the opponents and to call the play. Sticks are used to keep the score. Photo by Levon Sevunts
While jeans and baseball caps seem de rigueur, many players also sport traditional moose-hide vests, embroidered with intricate beadwork designs. Photo by Levon Sevunts
Hand game players use elaborate hand gestures to confuse the opponents and to call the play. Photo by Levon Sevunts
Judges follow every move and every call. Photo by Levon Sevunts
Hand game players are allowed to use their coats or blankets to hide from the opposing team in which hand they put the token. Photo by Levon Sevunts
Hand game judge announces the score. Photo by Levon Sevunts
The opposing teams seat on the floor across from each other. Photo by Levon Sevunts
The hand games attract spectators from Dene communities in the NWT, Yukon and northern Alberta. Photo by Levon Sevunts
Two elderly Dene women discuss the game. Photo by Levon Sevunts
The games attract the young and the old. Photo by Levon Sevunts
The games attract the young and the old. Photo by Levon Sevunts
This baby has no trouble sleeping through the game despite the deafening noise of the beating drums. Photo by Levon Sevunts
Close-up photo of a traditional Dene beadwork design. Photo by Levon Sevunts
A traditional Dene beadwork design. Photo by Levon Sevunts
Another traditional Dene beadwork design. Photo by Levon Sevunts
A man wearing an intricately embroidered shirt watches the games. Photo by Levon Sevunts
A young girl with intricately embroidered moccasins poses for a photo in the parking lot of the community centre in Behchoko. Photo by Levon Sevunts
An elderly woman watches the games. Photo by Levon Sevunts
Volunteers prepare food for the community feast at the hand games. Photo by Levon Sevunts
Spectators line up for the community feast at the hand games. Photo by Levon Sevunts
A young drummer supports his team. Photo by Levon Sevunts
A young drummer supports his team. Photo by Levon Sevunts

 

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Levon Sevunts

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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