šoohkwaahkiinki ‘Snowsnake’

Myaamia college student throwing a snowsnake.
Myaamia student Kaakatakileenkwia throwing a snowsnake on the campus of Miami University during a lunar new year celebration.

Over the past years, we’ve been working on reintroducing the game of Šoohkwaahkiinki ‘Snowsnake’ back into the Myaamia community. In šoohkwaahkiinki, players compete to see who can slide a thin piece of shaped wood as straight and as far as possible. Šoohkwaahkiinki can be played on frozen lakes or on a flat field covered in a couple of inches of snow. The piece of wood that is used for the game can be anywhere from 2.5 feet to 6 feet long. The wood is thin and very smooth with one end, the “head,”  bigger and heavier than the other, the “tail.” Often, this piece of wood, which we call šoohkwaahkaakani, is carved and painted to look like a snake. The šoohkwaahkaakana ‘snowsnakes’ that we’ve been using were made or purchased by tribal spouse Larry Hedeen.

A snowsnake in the foreground showing the distance from its starting point in the background.
Snowsnake lying in the snow at the end of a long slide. The small crowd in the background marks the starting point of the throw.

We are still in the early stages of learning how to play this game as well as making šoohkwaahkaakana ‘snowsnakes.’ We have played šoohkwaahkiinki on an indoor ice rink and on snow covered fields. Over these first years, the focus has been on introducing the basics of the game and building up our own individual abilities to throw a šoohkwaahkaakani so that it travels a moderate distance in a fairly straight line. We hope in the coming years to be able to introduce a version of the game that the Myaamia community can play indoors on ice or outdoors on a field or frozen lake.

Myaamia student Pinšiwa demonstrating how to slide a snowsnake

In the historical record, we have located one set of game rules that were recorded within the Myaamia community in the winter of 1824. This version of the game involved two players who strove against each other to throw a šoohkwaahkaakani ‘snowsnake’ longer and straighter than their opponent. The players would assign boundaries marking them with two wooden stakes set at a considerable distance apart. Play would begin from an agreed upon point between the two stakes, where the first player would attempt to slide their šoohkwaahkaakani to their assigned marker. Their opponent would meet their first throw, and then attempt to slide it back along the same path towards their marker. The first to reach their marker without their opponent duplicating the throw would win the game. The gathered crowd would watch the competition, and likely laugh, joke, and tease the players in a friendly manner. As with many of our games, many in the crowd would gamble on the outcome. After the first pair of players finished their game, a new pair would step forward to compete. As with all of our games, there were likely other forms of šoohkwaahkiinki with different rules and setups. 

As we reclaim this game and revitalize its play within our community, we will likely create new forms that work for our contemporary circumstances. We look forward to playing this game more often as a community in the near future – šoohkwaahkiitaawi ‘let’s play snowsnake!’

One Comment Add yours

  1. stevehinds says:

    Love this! Good STEM project in creating the posts and snakes. I live in New England – a perfect game for here.

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