Competitors battle in Traditional Native Games finals
TAHLEQUAH – After months of play in six games at five communities, the Traditional Native Games championship games were held Aug. 25 at the Cherokee Nation’s One Fire Field.
“Beginning in April we host the community Native games in five different communities. April through August we qualify the top three placers for each event or each game, and today they are invited to come here to compete for the championship,” CN Community Tourism Manager Bayly Wright, who coordinates the games, said.
Cornstalk shooting, hatchet throwing, horseshoes, Cherokee marbles, blowgun and chunkey are the games competitors take part in.
For the cornstalk shoot, each person competing gets two shots or two chances to shoot at a 4-foot-tall stack of cornstalks 85 yards away. After the competitors shoot, they walk down to the target and count how many cornstalks the arrows penetrated. The number of stalks penetrated is the score given to that shooter. The first shooter to score 50 points wins.
In the hatchet throw, competitors throw hatchets at a target that’s 21 feet away and the size of a playing card. The hatchet is required to make one rotation on its way to the target. If it does not, the thrower steps farther back so that their hatchet can achieve one rotation before striking the target. The first person to hit the target five times wins.
In the horseshoe competitions, players can compete in three ways. They can “bring a partner,” “draw a partner” or play in a singles tournaments. The horseshoe finals during the holiday have men and women categories.
Cherokee marbles is played on a flat surface with five holes organized in an L shape about 100 feet long. The object is for teams to get their marbles in each hole and then go back through the course. The team that manages to complete the course first wins.
Blowgun competitors shoot at a target from about 25 feet using blowguns that are 2-1/2 feet to 3 feet long. During normal competition, competitors shoot at the target from 45 feet using blowguns 6 to 8 feet long.
The paper target has a center target with circles around it. The center target is worth three points. The inner ring is worth two, and the outer ring is worth one point. The competitors each shoot 10 times and the one with the most points after those 10 rounds wins.
Chunkey is played using a smooth round stone that rolls along the ground while spear throwers try to land their 8-foot-long spears as close to the stone without hitting it before it stops rolling.
“I think chunkey is my favorite because it was a lost sport. I was in on the very first games and even made my own spear out of a gigging pole. We were experimenting with what worked,” said Cherokee artist Tana Washington, who placed in the top three in the cornstalk shoot, hatchet throw and chunkey during the finals.
She credits fellow Cherokees Jim Cosby and Richard Fields for getting her involved in the games. She said Fields made her bow that she used for the cornstalk competition, and CN citizen George Lowe made her arrows.
“I was very proud to get to participate in the games because it helps retain traditional games,” she added. “It’s great to be around others in a fun competition, yet they cheer you when you do well or even give you tips on improving because the leaders who keep the games going truly want others involved to keep the games alive.”
Competitor Mary HorseChief (Cherokee/Pawnee) competed in the cornstalk shoot, hatchet throw, chunkey and blowgun. She won first place in her age group in the blowgun shoot. She qualified for all four sports in the preliminary games and won first place in chunkey at the games held in Sallisaw.
“It’s important to continue these games. For one thing it’s fun. These are old games that we used to play and used to socialize together,” she said. “It’s something you can learn how to do. You can learn how to make the bows, the blowguns and the chunkey sticks, everything. Chunkey we are just now bringing back. It’s a really ancient game, so we’re learning how to play it, and it’s loads of fun. All ages can play it.”
Children also may compete in the games in blowgun, cornstalk shoot, Cherokee marbles and chunkey.
“It’s important to hold these competitions because it keeps the tradition of community and family and the passing of knowledge of these sports down to other generations. It just keeps everything moving and living,” Wright said.