This year, Arctic Bay prepped for the Arctic Winter Games a bit differently.
Along with the usual training came an unusual clinic – Dene drum-making – and the timing couldn’t have been better as the workshop took place the week leading up to the games in Hay River.
Yukon coach Doronn Fox, whom Arctic Bay’s long-time recreation coordinator Thomas Levi has known since 2004, headed east for the workshop.
“I’ve been trying to get him up here since September and we finally did,” Levi said.
Levi started Nunavut’s first-ever Dene Games team in 2004.
“Ever since then, every two years, Arctic Bay is the only team that’s been registering from Nunavut. Every two years we usually have full teams for junior girls, junior boys, juvenile girls and open males,” he said.
A far cry from 2004, when Levi only managed to put together an open males team.
Dene Games are similar to Arctic sports. The event includes the finger pull, snowsnake, stick pull, hand games and pole push, and an all-round event consisting of the scores for the three individual events.
“In the past, what we used to do is listen to music through an iPod to do hand games. Since this fall, I believe, a person by the name of Rex Willie started a drum clinic in this town to make drums, and he’s been doing games on the weekend on Sundays to do hand games,” said Levi.
The hand game involves the hiding and guessing of objects using elaborate hand signals and gestures to both find the object and hide the object.
Fox taught participants how to make proper Dene drums, which typically accompany the hand games. Six drums were built.
The drum-making was open to everybody in the community.
“There were quite a few. Whoever was interested, we invited.”
Levi says it’s hard work.
“I thought it was going to be simple, but like everything else you have to prepare. We had to wet them (hides), scrape them, put proper holes in the caribou skin. Then it took two days to get that drum fixed properly. On the third day we did the final finish,” he said.
Fox then spoke of how the drum is respected by the Dene.
“It’s been a very good week, and a learning experience, too,” said Levi. “It really was a learning experience for me, doing this. I’m thankful to Doronn for coming to do this clinic, and Rex Willie for doing the hand games. Along with Andrew Reid Jr. – he’s been on my team in the past, but he’s been really good at volunteering and drumming.”
Levi says there’s quite a bit of interest in hand games in Arctic Bay, even though there are no Dene.
“We like playing that game,” he said.
Levi has tried to challenge other communities to put together Dene Games teams, but Arctic Bay remains the sole Nunavut team.