Yukon North Of Ordinary

Sports archive for March 6, 2012

Snow snake earning international recognition for Dene games

Opening day of the Dene Games began with a full day of snow snake competition, held on the frozen Yukon river outside the Kwanlin Dün Cultural centre.

By Max Leighton on March 6, 2012 at 4:07 pm

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Photo by Max Leighton

SNAKE BITE – A competitor on team N.W.T throws his snake during a practice round at yesterday’s Dene Games snow snake competition. Yukon’s Doronn Fox won the event with a throw of 78.9 metres. Dustin Blackjack also of the Yukon placed 12th in the event. Rounding out the top three were Johnny Kilabuck of Nunavut and Willz Storr of N.W.T.

Opening day of the Dene Games began with a full day of snow snake competition, held on the frozen Yukon river outside the Kwanlin Dün Cultural centre.

Teams from Yukon were joined by Alaska, Northwest Territories, Northern Alberta, Nunavik, Nunavut and Greenland to compete in the juvenile female, junior male and female and open male events.

The snow snake was the first event of the games, which will also include the stick pull, hand games, finger pull and pole push, to be held throughout the week.

A traditional Dene hunting sport, the snow snake challenges contestants to pitch a sharpened wooden pole down a plowed snow lane, replicating an ancient technique once used to kill resting caribou.

About 100 contestants participated in total —men lining up on one side of the playing field and women on the other.

Each contestant was given three opportunities to pitch the spear, each attempting to send theirs farther down the ice runway than their opponents.

“It’s a lot of coordination, you find out your own technique and how to keep it straight and try to put power behind it,” said Doronn Fox, a Yukon competitor and this year’s gold ulu winner in the open male category.

“Besides that, you hope for the best on the track.”

Since its inclusion in the Arctic Winter Games in the 1990s, the sport has grown in popularity across the circumpolar north, beyond the traditional territory of the Dene people.

“I would say the Dene sports are up and coming in Greenland,” said Inooraq Brandt, head coach of the Greenland Dene Games team. “The Inuit games are what’s on everyone’s focus but we all practice together and meet to do the more technical style of training. It is an adopted sport and it is beginning to take off.”

Part of the difficulty of organizing teams for the Dene games has been the relative distance between competitors.

“Most practice year round, but again, since we are scattered around, you can’t go town to town unless you are flying or sailing, so we try to get together, at least for the Greenland open and if possible before the AWG,” said Brandt.

The same experience is had by virtually every other team in the AWG, so for many, the games are an opportunity to reconnect with friends and former competitors from across the North.

“It feels great to be out here and meeting everybody and meeting new friends and getting to try some new events,” said Dustin Blackjack, a competitor with Team Yukon.

For others, taking home an ulu is reward enough.

“I don’t know what I did differently to win this time,” said Stacey Reindeer, from Fort McPherson, N.W.T, who won gold in the junior female event. “I threw it and I got lucky I guess. It felt awesome to win.”

To the Dene people, the games hold great significance as a connection to their shared cultural history.

“It’s an old art that we want to keep alive,” said Sam Johnston, a former coach and elder from Teslin. “A lot of these games from the Dene sports were done by the people for survival, so we imitate to the best of our ability.

“We are getting a lot of interest from our younger people, which is very encouraging. It’s exactly what we’re aiming for.”

That aim was well received yesterday afternoon.

“I did a million times better than I thought I would, the team did a million times better than I thought they would,” said Fox. “It was nice, good weather, Whitehorse treated us well today.”

In the juvenile female category Savannah Adby of Team Alberta North won bronze with a score of 39.4 metres, Zhalaani Drygesse-Yelle of N.W.T won silver at 39.6 metres and Leanna Angnatuk of Nunavik, Quebec won gold with a 40.6 metre toss.

In the junior female category Sianna Gordon of Nunavik, Quebec won bronze with 31.27 metres, Brittney Brown of Yukon won silver with 31.97 metres and Stacey Reindeer of N.W.T won gold with a 33.02 metre throw.

In the junior males, Mathew Brown of Yukon won bronze with 64.98 metres, Randy Standifer Jr. of Alaska won silver with 69.3 metres and Jordan Levi of Arctic Bay, Nunavut won gold with 70.94.

In the open male event, William Storr of N.W.T won bronze with a 75.2 metre throw, Johnny Kilabuk of Nunavut won silver, at 75.4 metres and Doronn Fox of the Yukon won gold with a throw of 78.9 metres.

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