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.
Related stories from around the North:

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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