S.E. Ruckman: Hand-to-hand combat among tribes
"It was hand-to-hand combat. The two tribes played handgame in Carnegie recently and it was a first for me to see. The traditional contest is considered Class I gaming by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, which basically means it’s unregulated. The hide-and-go-guess game is a favorite amongst Plains tribes. The money that changes hands can be as sweet and free as honeysuckle in June.

Perched in my folding chair, I wondered why I had never been before to a handgame before this. However, curiosity drew me since word circulated that the Crows were down from Montana to visit their sister tribe, the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma. I sat on the Kiowa side, because my other mother is a member.

In my hometown paper, there is a special column tagged “Pow-wows and Handgames,” a strong clue it’s an Indian town. The gambling gatherings are regular during wintry gray months. That is the time of year that it is traditional to play, I was informed. A session involves hours of tense taunting, elaborate hand gestures and of course, old-fashion wagering. I watched hundreds of dollars duck in and out of a baggie all night.

The ones who could guess and bluff best led this sport. It was no surprise that the elders there could have played backup in nationally televised poker tournaments. Even though hands waved, gourds shook and drums boomed, facial muscles did not betray which hand hid the striped play piece.

Indians love to gamble-sans the modern gaming machine. There are historical accounts of tribes betting horses and belongings over foot races or other forms of competition back in the day. The idea that Lady Luck can alight on your shoulder from nowhere has a charm all its own."

Get the Story:
S.E. Ruckman: The mystery of the striped token (The Native American Times 12/8)

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S.E. Ruckman: Oklahoma benefits from Indians (11/11)
S.E. Ruckman: Race card played during election (11/5)