Tribes learn and share native games during sports camp

Cherokee Indian Mike Turtle from Stillwell, Okla.  shows how the game of double ball was played by northern American tribes such as the Blackfeet, Sioux and Cree nations. -
Cherokee Indian Mike Turtle from Stillwell, Okla. shows how the game of double ball was played by northern American tribes such as the Blackfeet, Sioux and Cree nations.
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TULALIP Sometimes fun and games are more than just fun and games.
That was the whole point of a three-day bonding session here on the Tulalip Reservation as NFL players took time to teach, talk and listen to tribal teens.
The Mack Strong Sports and Leadership Camp brought several big names to the Tulalip Indian Reservation, including Seattle Seahawks Shaun Alexander, who gave the keynote address during closing ceremonies at the Tulalip Tribal Center.
After the football, soccer and basketball clinics were over, leaders and organizers were hopeful that native kids would take some life lessons with them. And members of other tribes from around the country also made the trip to teach teens about the games and cultures of distant native nations.
The camp brought members from as far away as Oklahoma. Mike Turtle is a Cherokee Indian and on July 12 he was at the Tulalip Boys and Girls teaching a Yakama and Nez Perce Indian named Kenny Allen the sport of double ball.
The double ball is a leather sack shaped like a dog bone with weights stitched in the ends. It is hung over a peeled willow branch and slung like a projectile from player to player on a course that can be two miles long and a mile wide, Turtle explained. Players have to catch the double ball with their willow stick as well. If is falls on the ground the team loses possession.
The goal is to sling the double ball onto a goal shaped like a cross bar; how many points are awarded depends on how it hands on the wicket. Going under the bar is one point, over is two, but the ultimate is to wrap the projectile around the crossbar thats good for a trey, the Stillwell, Oklahoma native said. But just like in pool, slop doesnt count, he added: it has to be clear that was a players intent.
It takes a lot of skill, it takes a lot of practice, like anything else, Turtle said.
The sport was a cultural mainstay of northern tribes such as the Blackfeet, Sioux and Cree Indians of the central United States such as Montana, and was often used to settle disputes between different tribes. It also helped to keep hunters in fighting trim by building stamina and accuracy, he added.
The sport was more like lacrosse than any other, according to Saundra Wagner, a Tulalip Indian and certified indigenous games instructor with the Tulalip Boys and Girls Club. She said that no hands were used in the sport but only the willow branches used for launching the leather double ball. Wagner and Turtle are both certified instructors for northern tribal games.
Often the ends were filled with buffalo hooves or stones or the ends or the leather strap were doubled over and stitched to include a handful of stones, Turtle said.
Everything they played with came from nature, Wagner added. There was nothing that was store bought.
Last weeks activities on the Rez were an expansion of those efforts by Zoe Strong. She is a Nez Perce Indian and helped initiate a year-long program at Tulalip Elementary last September where Tulalip kids could get extra help during Saturday school sessions. On-line tutors helped with their grades while they got to burn off energy during extra physical education sessions.
She said the basketball, soccer and football clinics held at various sites on the Rez and in Marysville were an expansion of the school-year programs for fourth and fifth-graders. The three-day summer camp took it to the next level for teens who might really need some direction in their lives.
This is a piece of that that we wanted to bring to the seventh- and eighth-graders, Strong said. Our main goal is character building.
She serves as executive director of Hope Worldwides Washington state branch and she and her Seahawk husband founded the Team Works Academy. She was proud to invite members of other local tribes to the summer camp, including the Muckleshoot, the Lummi and her own Nez Perce.
For me, our programs are primarily towards Native Americans to focus on staying in school, Strong said. This is special for me to see my home tribes come in.
It was also special to see her father Gordon Higheagle drumming during the opening ceremonies in the Tulalip Tribal Center, where her mother and mother-in-law were also involved.
It touched my heart that we were coming together as a family, she said.

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