VIDEO: YKDFN Dene hand games workshop

A youth group learning how to play Dene hand games. (CKLB/File photo)

Drums echoed across the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre as more than 50 participants explored one of the oldest and most beloved Dene traditions: hand games.

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN), in partnership with the museum, hosted a beginner’s hand games workshop on Mar. 21, as part of the Naka (Northern lights) festival.

“When you’re playing you don’t feel any timeline, don’t feel any stress or anything,” says Bobby Drygeese, YKDFN lead coach.

He described the games as a hybrid form of gambling and guessing.

The workshop offered residents an opportunity for new players to learn more than just the games but  “understand each other,” he says.

Since the pandemic, communities have been unable to gather for their hand games tournaments.

Something, Drygeese says has been a difficult adjustment.

Nearly a dozen YKDFN members were spread out across the museum floor with their groups in order to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines.


One-time exception

Traditionally, women and children are not permitted to participate in the games. But because this event is considered a learning opportunity and not a tournament, Drygeese says he was granted an exception by Elders.

Mike Mitchell is the program coordinator for the museum.

“I think it’s important to have an event like this so that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can come to appreciate the culture that sort of binds us all,” he says. “We’re living on Treaty 11 land, we’re guests here.”

At the end of the three-hour workshop, all YKDFN coaches gathered together in the main hall of the museum to show participants how exactly hand games are meant to be played.

About the Author

Mariah Caruso
Mariah Caruso is a digital journalist, originally from Toronto, Canada. She graduated from the University of Toronto with a Hons. Bachelor of Arts and completed her Journalism post-grad at Sheridan College. She has an insatiable appetite for life, storytelling, connecting to the people, and getting to the heart of the issue. Mariah is excited to begin her journey and career in Yellowknife, NWT, and get involved with the community. If you have a story idea, feel free to send her an email at