Northern & Dene Games


The Northern and Dene Games program is designed to promote cultural pride and understanding through participation in traditional games. All community workshops are taught by experienced instructors, teaching a wide variety of Northern and Dene games. The instructors teach the history of the traditional survival games, technical instruction, and equipment management. All equipment is provided by the Aboriginal Sports Circle and will be left in the community, in hopes that the school, rescreation department and all youth can access the equipment to continue to practise their skills, and learn more about the traditional history. 


The Northern and Dene Games instructors will teach a variety of games to the students, there are hundreds of traditional games that were made up by the Inuit and Dene people as a way of survival, used as social games and as compeition to see who was the strongest. We have listed a few below. 

If you would like to learn more contact Shawna McLeod, Traditional Games Manager.


Dene Games

Finger Pull

The finger pull is a test of strength endurance and maximal strength of the arm and pulling hand. One player is on offense and the other on defense. For the player on defense, pain endurance may also be a determining factor in deciding the winner of the contest. It is a game that comes from people in Alaska. 


Hand Games

Also known as Stick Gambling. This is one of the most important traditional games among the Yukon and NWT First Nations, in the Sahtu and Deh Cho, and among the Dogrib and Chipewyan people. Any festive occasion will provide a good opportunity to play. The game is not as wide-spread among the Gwich’in. It is important to understand, that the hand signals used often differ from community to community. Hand Games is a game of guessing and deceiving and played to a chorus of drums and usually is the liveliness of all Dene Games.


Youth participating in the Traditional Hame Games competition at the Traditional Games Championships

Snow Snake

Snowsnake is a game can only be played in the winter, it could be a test of power and technique or of accuracy. The snowsnake is a stick the length of a spear or an arrow and must be thrown across a flat, snow packed surface. The player whose spear gildes the furtherest wins the competition. Traditionally the snowsnake is made from birch or willow and is between 60cm and 1.2m long, 1.5 to 2cm in diameter; pointed at one end and blunt at the other end. The snowsnake was used as a hunting tool to kill caribou or moose that were laying on the ice surfaces. 

Stick Pull

The Stick Pull is played with two players, one greased stick and opponents standing side by side. Both players must grip with one hand at the centre of the stick pull and competitors begin to pull on signal "1, 2, 3, pull!" there is no twisting, jerking or sideways movement allowed - just a stright, clean pull. Traditionally the stick was greased with bear grease but now days, we use crisco oil. The Dene people played this game to test strength, endurance and to keep their hands strong for fishing season. 

Pole Push

The Pole Push is made up of two equal teams, grasping on each ends of a spruce or pine pole. The object of the game is to push each other out of a marked area - a circle or square. The competition ends when one team succeeds in pushing the centre of the pole across the boundary marker. The pole is held no higher than the shoulder and no lower than the waist. The teams must push forward at all times and is played in a best out of three format. Traditionally the game could be played with as many as 50 players or played between two individuals. 

Inuit Games 

One Foot High Kick

The One-foot High Kick is one of the indoor games that were traditionally played during the winter months, esp. when several groups met during the dark and short days of the year. It is considered to be one of the most diffcult games of the Inuit Traditional Games. A target (usually a seal skin ball) is set at a pre-determined height, the athlete can take a running start or take off on both feel, while in the air, the athlete must attempt to kick or touch the targey with one foot and land one that same foot they kicked with. This inuit game requires strength, flexiblity and body control. 

Two Foot High Kick 

The Two Foot High Kick is similar to the One-Foot High kick except it is considered be more diffcult to keep proper balance while in the air and more demanding on the body. The athlete take a run up or walk up to the target (seal skin ball), jump off of both feet - while in the air - kicks or touches the target with both feet at the same time. The athlete must land on both feet to demonstrate good balance and control. This game was originated among the Alaskan people and was introduced into the Mackenzie Delta. 


The Airplane is strictly a test of strength endurance - pure muscle strength. It is one of the dew Inuit games that does not require well developed technical and motor skills. The athlete places himself face down on the floor, arms are extended and placed palm down and the legs are also placed on the floor. Two carriers grasp one of the athlete's fists each and the third carrier grasps his ankles. They lift the athlete off of the floor and slowly carry him along a pre-set course. The athlete has to maintain the absolute rigid body position for as long as possible. The attempt ends when the athlete is unable to stabilize his body along the course.  

Arm Pull

Arm Pull is known as the traditional tug-of-war game. Athletes need alot of power and strength to win at the Arm Pull. The objective of the game is to interlock legs and arms at the elbows; each attempt to pull the opponent over, or to break the elbow lock (like pictured below). It's a game that can be organized very easily, the risk of injury is low and can be played just about in any space. 

Swing Kick

The Swing Kick is a stationary game, it can be played on a smooth surface with a kickstand and seal target. The athlete sits himself on the floor and places a 90cm (3ft) belt or loop around his neck and places both legs through it as well. The loop or belt rests behind the neck and around the knees. Supporting himself with only his hands, he lifts his body off of the floor, rotating and swinging around the shoulders, he attempts to raise his feet and kick the seal target with both feet. After the contact with the target is made, both feet must be place back on the floor. The swing kick requires alot of upper body strength and flexibility.

If you would like more information on our Northern & Dene Games Program, contact Traditional Games Manager, Shawna McLeod at 867-669-8382 or by email

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Established in 1999, ASCNWT was created through a national consensus-building process in response to the need for more accessible and equitable sport and recreation opportunities for Aboriginal peoples across the Northwest Territories.

We believe that all Aboriginal people in the NWT should have the opportunity to participate in sport and recreational activities at a level of involvement they find meaningful and valuable.