Game pieces for the Lahal tournament.

A game of Lahal

The Nak'azdli First Nation treated band members and Fort St. James residents to a traditional game of Lahal at Kwah Hall.

Jesse Cole

Caledonia Courier

With the amount of laughing, shouting and dancing at Nak’azdli Band’s Kwah hall last week you would sooner think the around 40 people gathered there were playing Xbox rather than a hundreds of years old indigenous gambling game.

Lahal (often called Slahal) is a North American indigenous game played throughout the pacific northwest primarily by First Nations communities. Due to cultural suppression in the early colonial days of Canada the game was nearly lost but has increased in prominence lately with many First Nations using the game has a fun way to introduce their culture to a younger generation and non-aboriginals as well.

The game was the centre piece at the August 14 cultural afternoon at Kwah hall with dozens of kids and adults coming out to learn about the game and take part in a mini tournament.

“It’s usually played in tournaments,” said Bruce Allan one of the Lahal teachers at the cultural afternoon. “It’s also often played after funerals. It’s a sad time so [Lahal] is used to raise peoples spirits,” he added.

Lahal is played by two teams of five or six who try to guess which hand an opposing player is holding a piece of bone in, in order to win points, represented by sticks.

“You play for 10 sticks,” said Allan. ” The idea of the game is to get all the sticks to your side.”

The game involves two sets of bones of which their is a stripped and a plain one, representing both sexes.

“The plain one represents the male bone and the stripped one represents the female,” Allan explained.

Each team is awarded a set of bones which are held behind their back and the opposing team must guess which hand the piece of bone is in. Games are usually played for money and involve dancing, drumming and singing.

Darion Tom anne Hannah Olinek were two of the younger group of people who out to take part in the Lahal tournament.

“It was a fun experience to learn some of the cultural games of our people,” said Olinek. “It was cool to see what they did back then for entrainment and for fun. Nowadays we just go inside and connect to Wi-Fi, so it was fun to learn something cultural.”

Tom echoed Olinek’s feelings saying “it was really interesting. I’ve never played it myself before this, I’ve only seen other people play and now I know how. I’m really thankful that I came, I would definitely play it again.”

With the success of the game, Alexandra Luggi, a member of the social development department with the Nak’azdli Band Office hopes to see more tournaments played and continued interest.

Cash prizes were given out to teams that competed with the grand prizes being $500, $300 and $200 for first, second and third place.