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Sports This Week: Double ball returns to Ochapowace

Now Oksasikewiyin will be surveying players and coaches for feedback, and then plan steps for 2023 to grow interest in double ball to a broader audience.
Traditionally played by girls double ball can be played by all.

OCHAPOWACE / YORKTON - When you follow lacrosse as I have done for years, you start to think you have some understanding of the game and its history. 

But, when a game is as old as lacrosse is, that really isn’t the case. 

For example, I was not aware a game that one might call a cousin of lacrosse was played by Saskatchewan First Nations. 

Double ball is certainly in the same family at least, being a game played with a ball and stick, yet it is certainly different too, which isn’t surprising when you consider the size of North America. While there would have been travellers, and some sharing of ideas, they would diverge regionally. 

That’s not surprising. Shogi, Xiangqi, Janggi and Makruk are all chess games from the Far East, each has their own unique elements too. 

So it’s natural there is a Great Lakes style of lacrosse with a very different stick, stickball which is still played in areas such as Oklahoma and double ball which was revived recently at Kakisiwew School on Ochapowace First Nation. 

The games were arranged by the school’s Land Based Learning teacher, Lamarr Oksasikewiyin. 

“It’s a variation of lacrosse played in this particular area,” he said. 

Oksasikewiyin said he is hoping to revive interest in the game in the province, an effort dovetailing with his involvement with the International Traditional Games Society. 

“They (the Society) want to revive the traditional games of old,” he said, adding locally “. . . Our intention is kind of the bring it back,” he said, adding the recent event was one “to test the waters.” 

The testing of waters included inviting other area schools to participate including Whitewood, which would emerge the winner in the end. 

“Whitewood won 1-0. They played great to get to the final,” said Oksasikewiyin. 

While having limited time to familiarize themselves with the game Oksasikewiyin said, “they picked it up very fast.” He added as the tournament progressed you could start to see “the tactics” of the game emerge. 

So, as noted double ball is similar to lacrosse, but is played with sticks which are around waist high that each player holds.

Oksasikewiyin said the players actually went out before the event and helped cut willow sticks for the game, adding the process of collecting the sticks has a cultural aspect too. 

Tobacco was given to the willow bush “to thank the plant for helping us out,” said Oksasikewiyin. 

The game ball is two smaller balls wrapped in some type of hide that connects them both, looking much like a bolo.

In the case of the recent games at Ochapowace the actual game balls were filled with hair from a recently harvested bison, explained Oksasikewiyin, He added some sand is added as well to give the balls some weight to aid in throwing. 

“We use what is there,” he noted. 

Oksasikewiyin said the bison and the game are very much connected, adding the game has been played “as long as we’ve been hunting bison.” He explained after a successful hunt “people pretty much stayed in one spot,” and it was in such times they had time for games. 

There is a goal to score into, but no specific goaltender. 

A field is generally about football-sized although Oksasikewiyin boundaries are not traditional. 

Oksasikewiyin said traditionally in the area, the sport was only played by women, so they decided to run the tournament for the middle school girls. He added in 2023 he hopes to include high school girls, and boys were certainly wanting to play as well.

Traditionally there were no injury timeouts when the game was played and that continued at the tournament. Oksasikewiyin said the endurance of pain has always been part of what the game teaches. 

In addition to the double ball event, archery was held for boys, and food for all.

“Food just brings people together,” said Oksasikewiyin, adding people enjoyed the bison soup and bannock, again connecting things to culture. 

Now Oksasikewiyin will be surveying players and coaches for feedback, and then plan steps for 2023 to grow interest in double ball to a broader audience in the province, and ultimately to be a full medal sport in the First Nations Summer Games.