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FMPSD’s Second Annual Dene Hand Games Tournament

The Fort McMurray Public School Division (FMPSD) hosted an extraordinary cultural celebration with the Second Annual Dene Hand Games Tournament, showcasing a rich and dynamic aspect of Indigenous culture.

The event brought together participants and enthusiasts in an exuberant display of tradition, community spirit, and competition. Over two thrilling days, the Syncrude Sports and Wellness Centre was alive with competition, culture, and community spirit.

Originating from the Dënesųłinë́ people, an Indigenous group from Canada’s Northwest Territories, Dene Hand Games is more than just a pastime. They are imbued with historical and cultural significance, encapsulating the storytelling, music, and social unity integral to Dene heritage.

The games are played with a series of hand gestures and rhythmic accompaniments. Players hide small objects in their hands, and the opposing team guesses their locations. The game requires skill, strategy, and the ability to read the opponent’s nonverbal cues, making it as thrilling as cerebral.

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The Hand Games Tournament celebrated Dene culture and was an educational opportunity. Students from various schools and backgrounds participated in the interactive learning experience, promoting cultural understanding and diversity. A stunning display of teamwork and strategy was seen as 13 enthusiastic elementary school teams from FMPSD schools and neighbouring regional schools engaged in the lively tournament. In a spectacular tie for first place, the Fort McMurray Islamic School, Timberlea Public School, and Elsie Fabian School emerged as champions of the Elementary School Tournament.

The high school category showcased an equally impressive show of skills, with seven teams contending for the title. Westwood Community High School’s Junior High team and the Mikisew Cree First Nation School team rose to the top, securing their joint victory in the High School Tournament.

Over 230 students participated in the tournament, highlighting the event’s broad appeal and success in promoting Dene games.

The Syncrude Sports and Wellness Centre generously donated their space and played a crucial role in event logistics. The Athabasca Tribal Council provided invaluable support through Indigenous protocols, teachings, drumming, and officiating the games. This partnership ensured a meaningful and authentic experience for all involved.

Community Elders and leaders attended the event, offering wisdom and insights into the history and cultural context of the Hand Games. Elders and local community members added to the event’s energy by cheering on the teams, making it not just a competition but a festive celebration of Dene heritage.

Tournament Organizer and FMPSD Coordinator Matthew Shewchuk reflects on the authenticity the games provide for students.

“It was so powerful to see so many students celebrate Dene culture. An Elder told me at the event that they appreciate FMPSD’s creating a safe place for students to compete and celebrate Indigenous culture, which was very moving to me!”

The success of this year’s tournament sets the stage for future events. It continues to pave the way for an ongoing tradition within the FMPSD that honours Indigenous cultures and supports educational growth through active participation.

FMSPD’s Second Annual Dene Hand Games Tournament marks a significant milestone in FMPSD’s endeavours to embed Indigenous traditions into the fabric of their community education. The Division looks forward to next year’s event, anticipating even greater participation and continual reverence for the Dene heritage. With the bar set high, future tournaments will be even bigger and better, further enriching the tapestry of Dene traditions through the spirit of games, community, and youth engagement.

Photos by Momin Syed

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Krista Balsom

Born and raised on Random Island, Newfoundland, Krista Balsom grew up dreaming big. Moving to Fort McMurray in 2001 and attending Westwood Community High School and Keyano College before heading to the University of Ottawa to study political science and then public relations at Algonquin College, Krista returned in 2009 after working on Parliament Hill as a legislative assistant, to work and put down further roots in Fort McMurray.

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