|February 28, 2013
Sonia Chippewa honored at stick game tournament
By Alyssa Nenemay
Sonia Chippewa received a stick game tournament in her honor for her 70th birthday. “This was such a great birthday present,” she said. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay)
POLSON — Years ago, Sonia “Finley” Chippewa mentioned jokingly that she wanted to host a stick game tournament when she turned 70. That joke became a reality when her family hosted a birthday stick game tournament in her honor at the Kwataqnuk Resort and Casino. “I was so surprised! They didn’t even tell me they were going to do it. I’m so happy! I forgot I even said that,” said Chippewa.
Chippewa grew up in Dixon Agency with her three younger siblings. Her grandparents raised Chippewa when her mother passed away at the age of nine. “It was nice growing up there. We lived in a field and we had a playground, we had a pool, which was the river, and we had no electricity,” she said.
As a young child, Chippewa was introduced to stick game by her grandparents. “I’ve loved it ever since I first played it. I loved the songs and singing. I learned all the old songs from them and I still sing it today,” she said.
Stick game is an ancient hand game played by tribes throughout the US and Canada. Chippewa credits the game for keeping her family close and drug and alcohol free. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay)
Stick game is an ancient hand game played by tribes throughout the US. The game is played between two teams who face each other during the match. Throughout the game, there are two sets of bones in circulation. Each set contains two bones, one is striped representing the male and the other is clear representing the female.
One team hides the bones in their fists, leaving their opponent to guess which hand contains the female bone. Hiding the bones can get exciting as teams will dance, shake rattles, and sing to distract their opponent.
Chippewa raised her grandson Robert “Shady Cree” Chippewa. Robert and his wife own and operate First Five designs and he composes stick game songs. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay)
Each team has a set of life sticks, usually five each. If a team guesses the bones incorrectly, they lose a stick to their opponent. If a team guesses the bones correctly, they win the bones and it’s their turn to hide them.
The goal of the game is to guess correctly and acquire all ten life sticks circulating in the game. When all the life sticks are won, the final “kick stick” which is longer than the life sticks is played for to cement a win. The kick stick is won in the beginning of a game and hidden until the end.
Chippewa introduced the game to all of her children and grand children. The family travels throughout the US to play in tournaments. “It’s a big part of our family. None of my kids drink or do drugs and I think it’s because of the game. A family that plays together stays together,” she said.
Stick game wasn’t always legal in Chippewa’s homeland on the Flathead Reservation. The player recalls a time when “pony soldiers” would raid Native American cultural activities taking place on the reservation. “A long time ago our people couldn’t play stick game in the open. Whenever the people would play stick game the pony soldiers would ride in and shoot. The people would run to the mountains to hide. Some wouldn’t make it. They would be killed,” she said.
Chippewa’s birthday cake featured her favorite cartoon characters “The Smurfs” and was designed by her grandson’s wife. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay)
The birthday surprises kept rolling as Chippewa’s family refused to reveal her partner for the tournament. Chippewa sat in the conference room anxiously watching the entrance because she was told her partner was minutes away from the Casino. Just as her nerves reached its peak, through the door came her younger brother Barney Finley.
The pair played a good game, winning the weekend’s Bone Hog Tournament. Chippewa’s birthday stick game tournament attracted 45 teams from throughout the Northwest and Canada. “This was such a great birthday present,” she said.
The following are the winners of the Sonia Chippewa 70th Birthday Bone Hog Stick Game Tournament:
3-Man Midnight Madnes:
1st Place: Sandra Pierre
2nd Place: Dale Healy
Bone Hog Tournament
1st Place: Barney Finley and Sonia Chippewa
2nd Place: Louise and Alice Brave Rock
3rd Place: Dylan Caye and Bev Michel
Red Rover Jackpot (Winner Takes All)
Today, Chippewa has an empire of children, grand children, and great grandchildren. She said the recent passing of her family’s elder Octave Finley and her 70th birthday has initiated her status as an elder. “Now I’m the elder. I got to start acting like one,” she laughed.
The light-hearted woman said she has no plans for the future. “I’m going day-by-day and enjoying my life. I’m grateful to be this old. A lot of kids don’t have their mother or father. I’m still here with my kids, grandkids, and great grandkids,” she said.