November 1, 2022
A family plays the stick game against another team in Ignacio, Colo. this past fall season. (Photo by Crystal Ashike/KSUT Tribal Radio )

Celebrating heritage, the Native way

By Crystal Ashike

Guess which hand holds the bones? It is a game shared among many tribes. It's called the 'stick game' for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

The event was coordinated by Mike Santistevan. He learned the game by watching his grandparents and continues to share it with his community during the fall season in Ignacio, Colo.

Girl in a jacket
Drums and drummming, to keep the watching eye awake during the Southern Ute Indian Tribe stick game event. (Photo by Crystal Ashike | KSUT Tribal Radio)

To play the game, a team of four or more people plays against another team using four bones and 11 sticks; two bones have stripes. "Now, the way Ute people play is we look for the plain bone," says Santistevan.

If the other team can guess who is holding the plain bones without losing all their sticks wins the game. Sounds simple, but it takes a lot of concentration because the songs, singing, and drumming are consistent enough to relax your mind.

Girl in a jacket
Teasing the opponent with clues (Crystal Ashike/Tribal Radio)

"Nowadays, everybody sings, everybody's songs, there's not like, oh, you can't sing that song. That's our song. You know, it doesn't work like that. Hand game songs are just that, they're hand game songs," explained Santistevan.

Over 22 teams participated in the three-day stick game tournament with cash prizes totaling $20,000.

Enjoying the game, Leandra Litz, 2023 Jr. Miss Southern Ute, was a little shaky playing her first match after not playing for so long, partly because of the pandemic.

"It was a pretty bad time, you know, especially for the Powwows and - other events," said Litz.

Litz believes it is good to learn about cultural games, especially for the youth. "I hope it encourages them to -, you know, (to) take part in their cultural events, cultural games, it's really fun, I hope everyone gets to try it out."

Girl in a jacket
Leandra Litz, 2022-2023 Jr. Miss reveals her hand. (Photo by Crystal Ashike /Tribal Radio)

For Satistevan, "It's my spiritual medicine, you know, that's what helps me remain grounded and balanced - but the pandemic did really do a lot to the stick game world," by taking away players and the unity.

Don't have time to listen subscribe to KSUT Tribal Radio Podcast and listen whenever. TRT [1:38]

Copyright 2022 by KSUT Tribal Radio