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Native American News

Ojibwe Winter Games revive culture in Lac du Flambeau and beyond

On a blistery winter day, a group of bundled-up students sling wooden spears painted like snakes down a snowy trench.

“That one’s going to go all the way,” they cheer.

Nearby a group of girls launch atlatls – an indigenous hunting tool – through the air. They take aim at a field full of plastic animals.

Snow Snake.jpg
Erin Gottsacker
A group of eighth grade boys throw snow snakes down an icy path.

While athletes around the world were striving for gold in the Beijing Olympics, students in Lac du Flambeau were competing in these winter games.

The Ojibwe Winter Games give elementary schoolers the chance to play games that were once common in Wisconsin’s tribal communities.

Wayne Valliere, a teacher at the Lac du Flambeau Public School, is one of the people responsible for putting the competition on.

“I had the dream to bring these games back,” he says. “I saw thousands of young people on the ice competing in these games like the past.”

Snow Snake Close- Up.jpg
Erin Gottsacker
Snow snakes

Because of teachers like Valliere, the winter games have become a chance for students to learn about their tribe’s history and practice the Ojibwe language, all while getting exercise and having fun.

“We came into a scene where even our children were inside playing video games and sitting around,” he says. “So what we’re doing is we’re getting them outside and playing games that they own. They’ve taken ownership of these games because they belong to them, and they realize that these games belong to the ones that come after them.”

That’s a lesson that resonates with students like Vanessa LaFortune.

“You know that it’s not going to be lost,” she says. “I know that’s a big worry for Wayne (Valliere). Are these kids really going to maintain it and use it in their everyday lives? And we do which is great because now it’s not lost.”

LaFortune isn’t the only one who feels this way.

When the Ojibwe Winter Games started eleven years ago, games like snow snake hadn’t been played in hundreds of years.

Now, 32 tribal communities across the Midwest have started their own winter games, bringing games like the snow snake back to life.

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