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Yellowknife

Hand games tournament brings rhythm, energy and joy to Dettah


At this week’s Dettah hand games tournament, players young and old from across the NWT and as far as Alberta are competing on 36 teams for a prize pot of around $100,000.

Hand games “brings joy, it brings happiness,” said Randy Baillargeon, a volunteer with the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning and a player in the tournament.

“This game is all for fun. If you win, that’s good. That’s great. But win or lose, there’s always a fun game.”

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As a player, it’s easy to live in the moment in a setting like this one. 

The bracket for a Dettah hand games tournament on June 23, 2022. Amelia Eqbal / Cabin Radio
The bracket for the Dettah hand games tournament on June 23, 2022. Amelia Eqbal/Cabin Radio

“You just have fun, you just move your body. Once you feel the rhythm, your arm feels like a feather, so it’s just this energy,” Baillargeon said.

“And then sometimes with, like, 30 or 40 drummers behind your back, it sounds really good, so it feels good.

“We try to keep our culture alive and keep our heritage alive, our stories. It’s not always about hand games, but it’s always about who we are as Dene.”

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Being one of the biggest tournaments to take place in the area since the start of the pandemic, residents from far and wide turned out.

Two matches were running at any time underneath a large white tent.

Freshly-grilled white fish filets being served by a volunteer at a Dettah hand games tournament on June 23, 2022. Amelia Eqbal / Cabin Radio
Freshly grilled whitefish being served by a volunteer at a Dettah hand games tournament. Amelia Eqbal/Cabin Radio

Eager spectators scaled the side of a bleacher inside to secure the best seat in the tent, while proud parents watched from the sidelines as their sons played in the tournament for the first time.

Elsewhere in the crowd, players chugged water in an effort to soothe their voices for the next game.

“When we’re doing these games, we’re always trying to promote culture. The community helps out as much as they can as well,” said Bobby Drygeese, a coordinator of the tournament.

“We’ve got lots of volunteers and lots of programs, so it’s working out really well. It’s lots of fun.”

The tournament was a feast for the senses, in part thanks to the literal feast available for attendees. In a tent along the back fence, a boy learned how to fillet freshly caught whitefish, white cloth gloves newly stained red. Behind him in a nearby tent, a man carefully stripped away the pelt of a thawing muskrat as visitors watched.

While there was real money on the line, most people appeared to be treasuring each other’s company above all else.

On the sidelines, people of all ages mingled and reconnected. Babies cooed in laps of relatives while children chased each other around the legs of adults and took turns inside the bouncy castle. Young adults wandered in groups, smiling and laughing with each other.

Elders watched the games in clusters of chairs or around picnic tables.

“It’s good to see Elders happy again, because the Elders have been left behind for almost three years, and it is lonely,” said Baillargeon.

“Now, we have this hand games tournament in Dettah and all the Elders are here, seeing their friends again and talking to people finally.

“It’s just to have that good feeling again.”

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