Diniizhoo Diniizhoo, a Gwich’in gathering place

The Button Game

The Button Game was played at one time with flattened lead pellets used for ammunition, with an X inscribed on one side (to indicate a head and tail side). Buttons and coins are also used. Gwich’in girls have been known to play with buttons they call their ‘babies’. Buttons are thrown at a hole in the ground or a stick from a distance of up to 10m/33ft. The one whose button comes closest to the stick or hole wins all the buttons. He then calls ‘heads or tails’ and flips the buttons on the ground, claiming all those landing with the side up he chose. The player with the next best throw does the same with the remaining pieces, and so on until the buttons are all claimed.

John Joe KyikavichikJohn Joe Kyikavichik told about the games he played as a boy

“We played ball, I got a ‘whiteman ball’. They made it out of moose hide. Me and Alfred [Charlie], Dick Nukon, my brother, we [were playing] ball. We used two sticks. What we do: we cut grass, we put it in a cloth and roll it up, just like round. And then we tie with string, tie it good. We hit it about two or three times and it bust, we fix it. It happen, Alfred Charlie’s mother saw us through the window, so she cut that skin and made a ball for us. She put in moose hair, she sewed it up good. Brown ball. ... He called us he say, “You kids come over.” So, we run over, he throw it to us. We grab it, good little ball. We’re happy.

So, what we do, we got three corner. We got one stick each, one guy stand behind us, another too. Just like baseball, but different. So, one guy stand from behind us, they throw to us and we hit it, and run around that base and three guys they run for that ball, they grab it and hit us on the back with it, chase back to back, that’s the way we play with it. Aha, that’s the way we play with it. Some time we play two. One base each side, one guy stand behind one guy and run back and forth. They try and hit us, then we turn back. If they don’t, we keep on hold it, so who holds the bat, wins. That’s the way we play with it.

And football, they make it out of moose hide. Every night people play with it, about five or six play each side. They against each other and play with it. Out of moose skin.

Lots of fun. Sometimes those girls played with us, it’s more fun. We run around, play ball. That’s the way we play with it. Just like baseball bat, different. That bat, we make it our self, we make it wide and long and then we play with it. All kinds different games, we play with it, but some of them are hard to explain in English.

We play [a game with] buttons, too, about twenty buttons each person. He throw it, who get closer to the stick, is the one that’s the one, he shake button, spill it, what button upward he pick it up. The rest, he spill it again. That’s the way we play with it. ... You know, put stick in middle, we throw it. That’s how we play button game, all I know [laughs]. ...Sometimes we dig hole, we throw button there so who most button in that hole we start that button throw in the hole like this [laughs]. Our hands just muddy.

... It’s hard to find a name for [the games] in English. Just like baseball. Nehkak gał, we call it, it means bat. Nehkak is ball, gał means stick. That’s the way we call it. That button we play with it, who’s [button is] most close to stick, ... we call it seevijaa [laughs]. I don’t know seevijaa mean in English. Seevijaa means close, close to stick.”

(John Joe Kyikavichik VG1997-9-12:177-258 June 16, 1997 Old Crow, Yukon English)