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Kids learn traditional indigenous games at Pioneer Park in Billings

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Posted at 5:58 PM, Aug 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-10 11:14:59-04

BILLINGS — If your kids are looking for something unique to do during these last few weeks of summer vacation, head to Pioneer Park. For the next three days, kids are being taught how to play indigenous traditional games, a way of connecting children with native traditions.

It was a beautiful day to play outside and a great day for a trip back in time. Around 15 kids gathered Tuesday to learn a little bit more about Native American culture.

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“It does make me proud ‘cuz I get to represent it and just have fun with it, I guess,” said 13-year-old Audrey Little Owl.

Little Owl is of Crow, Chippewa and Kumeyaay descent. The program gives her a chance to connect with her roots.

“There’s all this stuff out here that your grandparents learned, and your great grandparents. You can make game pieces and play the games and have fun,” said Clint Valandra, indigenous games instructor.

Valandra is the Indian Education home-to-school coordinator at Billings Skyview High School. He usually teaches the program through Billings Public Schools, but this time, the Native American Developmental Corporation asked him to teach the course.

“Six games today and they play them from nine o'clock to noon. Then they eat lunch and from one o'clock to three, they construct the games,” Valandra said.

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These games include Blackfeet soccer, the tie-up game, and jumping sticks, where the goal is to knock down sticks from a distance for points.

“Gives me something to do besides being on my phone all day,” Little Owl said.

Cell phones are collected at the beginning of training to give the kids a chance to experience the outdoors.

“’Cuz if you’re sitting in a dark room playing games all night, you’re not getting no sun, you’re not communicating with people, you’re not interacting, which is really important for mental health,” said Valandra.

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Kids connected with nature by making sticks out of willows cut from trees around the Yellowstone River. For teens like 14-year-old Esaias Oldelk, it was an eye-opening experience.

“Makes me feel like I’m motivated and can keep going about who I am and what I can do as a native child,” said Oldelk.

You don’t have to be native to sign up, you just have to be a kid. Oldelk thinks it’s worth it.

“I’ve been taught mostly respect and taught to be grateful for what I can have,” Oldelk said.

The program continues through Aug. 11 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

To sign up for the program, contact Jackie Lloyd with the Native American Developmental Association at (406) 208-0917.