The Cherokees have always been a competitive people. Early Europeans remarked about the competitive nature of the tribe, even among the children. This was encouraged by the families as a way to strengthen them physically and mentally for their real life roles as defenders of their territory. Game play was often more than play. Large bets would be wagered between individuals, towns and even tribes. There are stories that territory was gained or lost based on the outcome of a game. Stickball was particularly important between tribes. A game’s outcome could be used to settle a dispute rather than going to war. During the missionary period, game play was discouraged as sinful. The games nearly died out. But thankfully, in the last 10 years, there has been a resurgence of all types of traditional game play. It has grown so much that we can now enjoy game play between towns and even tribes again. While there are many games of chance, like the peach seed game, it is the games of skill that draw the biggest crowds and the loudest cheers. These games are stickball, marbles, chunkey, blowgun competitions, gigging competitions and cornstalk shoots.

A-ne-jo-di, or the Stickball Game, is a very rough game played by not only Cherokees, but many other tribes like the Muskogee, Tuscarora, Iroquois, Choctaw and others. It is also popular with many Canadian First Nations. It is a uniquely Indian sport, requiring fierce competitiveness, speed and endurance, remarkable dexterity and tolerance of pain. The game resembles, and was the inspiration for, the modern game of lacrosse, except without helmets or pads. Traditionally, the object of the game was to toss the ball between two posts at the end of a playing field. The version played today by the Oklahoma Cherokee requires the players to hit a wooden pole by throwing the small ball with the ball sticks. The number of participants can vary. In the old days, hundreds would have played. It is not uncommon to see men and women on the same teams with different rules for each gender. Women can use their hands, men cannot. stickball2 Watch Stickball Played. Hold On!

Di-ga-da-yo-s-di or Marbles is another popular Cherokee game, which is played in tournaments. The marble game dates back to approximately 800 AD and is a complex game of skill and strategy played on a five-hole outdoor course. Traditionally the “marbles” were chipped from stone then smoothed until the early 20th century. There are still a few traditional marble makers, but today most people use billiard balls to play this game. The game is played on a field about 100 feet long and containing five holes about two inches in diameter, 10 to 12 yards apart forming an L-shape. Any number may participate as long as each team has an equal number of players. While the game is historically played by adults, children may play on their own teams against another children’s team. The players toss the marbles at the holes with the object of advancing by landing in each hole in sequence and then returning to the starting point. make-a-marble-600x384 Learn More!

Chunkey – Like stickball, chunkey was played by many tribes. All of the games made use of a smooth stone disk, usually with concave sides, and two long slender poles about 8 feet long with marks on them. The disk was very valuable because of the labor involved to make it, and didn’t belong to an individual but to the entire town. To play the game, usually only two persons played at one time. The idea of the game was to start the stone disk rolling along a smooth piece of ground, after which the two players threw their poles after it trying to hit the stone, or coming as near as possible to it, when the stone came to a rest. When the stone stopped nearest to one of the players’ poles, the count was according to the marks on the pole. chunkey game Learn more!

Cornstalk Shoot– A game of great skill and strength. Contestants use traditional wooden bows. They stand 80 yards from the target, and one by one shot at the target, a horizontally stacked pile of tough, woody cornstalks 3 feet x 3 feet by 12 inches deep. After all have shot, the archers walk the range to the cornstalk rack to count their scores. The score is determined by how many cornstalks the arrow pierces. After the scores are counted, the archers line up again, reverse the field and shoot the rack at the other end of the field. The first archer to reach a total of 50 points wins. bowshoot 1 Learn More!

Blowgun – The blowgun is made from river cane with the inner membranes removed then tempered and shaped over a fire until straight. The dart is made from a hard wood with a tuft of thistle attached to one end. Traditionally the blowgun was used to kill small game like rabbits or squirrels. Today competitions are held in the Cherokee Nation to see who is the most accurate. It takes a significant amount of skill to know only propel the dart with your lungs, but hold the blowgun steady while doing so. Today participants shoot at a standard bull’s eye target approximately 20 yards from the firing line. Scoring is determined by the designated value of the circle hit in the target. cherokeeblowgun Learn More!

Gigging– Gigging is a way of life for many Cherokee whether its gigging fish, frogs or crayfish. Every spring a tournament is held at the gigging flats on Lake Eucha near Jay in the DelawareDistrict of theCherokee Nation. Two-person teams, one to gig and one to drive the flat-bottomed boat, rush the lake in at night to gig fish. The flat bottoms are needed so the teams can access the shallow waters of the Lakes many tributaries. Tallies are kept of the type and weight of the fish with winners announced after the second night of gigging. All forms of gigging utilize a gig, a long pole that has been tipped with a multi-pronged spear. The use of gigging reflects the area’s Cherokee heritage and keeps the fishing tradition alive. gigfishing1 Go Gigging!