Moccasin Games

Culture shared through traditional play

Sophia Panek teaches attendees of the Moccasin Games the dish game Thursday afternoon. Yrsa Peterson looks on. (Journal photo by Trinity Carey)

MARQUETTE — Culture is shared through music, food, clothing, dance and games.

Northern Michigan University’s Center for Native American Studies and Native American Student Association hosted the Moccasin Games Thursday afternoon to share two traditional games of the Great Lakes tribes.

Attendees learned to play the Anishinaabe games Bagesiwin, or the dish game, and Makizinataadiiwin, or the moccasin game.

The moccasin game is one of hunting and hiding. Traditionally played with real moccasins, a team hides four bullets, one being a different color, under the moccasins. The opposing team uses a stick to reveal which moccasin the bullets are hidden under and slaps the moccasin they believe to be hiding the colored bullet. The hiding team plays a drum and sings as the hunter guesses in an attempt to distract them.

Playing the game is powerful for Damon Panek, who visited NMU to share the traditional games, and his family because it is a way of sharing Native American culture despite many attempts throughout time to silence it.

Jackson Scandin plays the drum while playing Moccasin, a game of the Great Lakes tribes. The drum is meant to distract the opposing team while they play. (Journal photo by Trinity Carey)

“Part of it is, for me anyway, just this small little act of playing this game out in the open is important,” Panek said. “All these things we have in our culture, they exist in books and they exist in documents and things like that, but they’re not alive until we do it …The language of it, the stories of it, the interactions that you have through playing these games become alive again when you do it.”

Panek said moccasin is an ancient game played by all Native Americans prior to European contact. There are different versions played all throughout North America, but the one he taught during the event is played by every Great Lakes tribe. The games are a way to connect with one’s ancestors, he said.

“We are continuing what we were given here, and I think that’s pretty amazing to be able to do,” Panek said.

Panek enjoys sharing these games with people because it’s a chance to learn a different way of thinking and open one’s mind to a new perspective in a fun way.

“Doing these things out in the open is very significant in how far we’ve come in the history of our cultures colliding and meshing … This stuff is precious because it’s surviving a number of attempts of assimilation,” Panek said. “This is us being able to show everybody who we are and what we have and have fun and include people. How often do we do stuff like this where we’re really engaged with each other? Today, we’re all so engaged with our phones and everything else, but this is an opportunity to really engage with each other and the essence of each other in a way because you’re trying to figure somebody out.”

A player of the Moccasin game hides four bullets under pieces of fabric, which represent moccasins. The opposing team will hunt for the different colored bullet to score points. (Journal photo by Trinity Carey)

Trinity Carey can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is tcarey@miningjournal.net.


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