Reinventing the Wheel Game: Intergroup Trade on the Plains/Plateau Frontier

Author(s): Gabriel Yanicki

Year: 2015


In Piikáni oral tradition, the namesake of southern Alberta’s Oldman River is a place in the Rocky Mountains where Napi, or Old Man, taught the various nations how to play itsewah (lit. ‘wheel game’) as a way of making peace. In the centuries since, travellers, adventurers, and scholars have recorded several accounts of Old Man’s Playing Ground and of the hoop-and-arrow game that was played there; this gaming tradition is shared by peoples on either side of the continental divide, with gambling usually accompanying it. Stories of the wheel game being played as an alternative to warfare reaffirm the observation made by authors such as Bill Brunton and Marshall Sahlins that gambling games are associated with high social and kinship distance; they thus offered otherwise hostile groups a peaceful mechanism for intergroup trade. When oral tradition, history, ethnography, and an archaeological assessment of the playing ground’s most probable location—a floodplain scoured and rebuilt by floodwaters of the Oldman—are brought together, the locale can be understood as a nexus for cultural interaction and trade, through the medium of gambling and games, on the natural frontier between peoples of the Interior Plateau and Northwest Plains.

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Cite this Record

Reinventing the Wheel Game: Intergroup Trade on the Plains/Plateau Frontier. Gabriel Yanicki. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 394869)


Spatial Coverage

min long: -142.471; min lat: 42.033 ; max long: -47.725; max lat: 74.402 ;