An ancient First Nations game was brought to Penticton Elementary Schools by a Indigenous cultural teacher this past year.
Oral histories reportedly say that Slahal or Lahal—the bone game or stick game—was given by the creator to humanity at the beginning of time as an alternative to war.
The competition was suggested to have multiple purposes, entertainment, family pastime, economic gain and even a sacred ritual.
Okanagan language and culture instructor Rose Caldwell for School District 67 has planned an eight-team stick game tournament June 18.
She has been teaching it as part of her curriculum.
“It is a gambling game, but because we’re in schools we can’t gamble with money. What it really does is builds a lot of different things,” said Caldwell, who learned the game as a kid and who still plays it professionally. “It builds camaraderie, citizenship and sportsmanship which is very important for kids.”
The game itself usually involves two teams each having five counting sticks and two sets of “bones,” two with stripes and two without.
One team starts out with all four bones which are then concealed and swapped between hands and the opposing team must guess the position of the unmarked bones.
If they are correct they then take two of the bones, if they are wrong they must give up a scoring stick.
Once a team has won both sets of bones, it is their turn to conceal them. The game continues until one team has all the sticks.
In the traditional game, the competition is usually accompanied by drumming and singing and players and spectators can place bets.
Caldwell is one of just a handful of Indigenous instructors in Canada with her qualifications and teaches 500 district students weekly in First Nations language and culture.
“Okanagan (culture) has never been in this school district to this magnitude and it is something very important for all to learn,” she said.
There will be three district schools participating in the first tournament, host West Bench Elementary along with Queen’s Park and Parkway and Outma Sqilx’W Cultural School.
Each school will have two teams of 15 players.
There will be prizes for first, second and third along with a most sportsmanlike award.
The winning school will receive the specially designed, annual trophy made by First Nations metal sculptor Clint George and will host the event the following year.
Sponsors are still needed to help with the cost of prizes and anyone who can help is asked to contact Bill Bogaardt at 250-770-0461 or firstname.lastname@example.org.