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B.C. students roll the bones with ancient Indigenous game as tourney debuts

Created to settle disputes, Lahal has been a staple of Pacific Northwest culture for centuries
Hundreds of students from across the South Island gathered at Spectrum Community School for the first-ever Tri-District Lahal Tournament on May 14. (Bailey Seymour/Black Press)

Hundreds of students from across southern Vancouver Island gathered at Spectrum Community School in Saanich this week for the first-ever Tri-District Lahal Tournament.

On May 14, 26 teams of eight students from the Greater Victoria, Sooke and Saanich school districts and W̱SÁNEĆ School Board competed in the ancient game that has been played by Indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest for centuries.

According to a news release from SD61, traditionally, the game was created to settle disputes and was played with animal bones, but in more recent times, the game is played for entertainment and uses wooden sticks which range from natural wood to expertly carved or painted game pieces.

The game is played between two teams using two sets of “bones,” one striped pair and one unstriped pair, scoring sticks, and a “king” stick, which is an extra stick for the team that begins the game. One team conceals sets of bones within their hands, while the other team tries to win, scoring sticks by guessing the location of the unstriped bones.

Throughout the game, the team that has the bones is accompanied by drummers and singers that try to distract the team that is guessing.

“The students and children in our community give me a lot of hope,” Cowichan Tribes Elder Raymond Jones Peter said in the release. “They have such respect for each other and for Indigenous ways. They are eager to learn and to teach each other. Because that’s how we all learn. All of us, no matter our age, are all learners.”

There are already plans for next year to make the Lahal Tournament even bigger.

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