SDPB Dakota Life: Lakota Woskate/Lakota Games

Posted by Katy Beem on
Mike Marshall teaches paslohanpi (javelins).
Katy Beem

Dakota Life: Winter Fun

This month, Dakota Life features the ways people in South Dakota embrace the season’s ice and snow.

Lakota Woskate/Lakota Games

When artist Mike Marshall was digitizing the Lakota Woskate (Lakota Games) virtual exhibit at the Buechel Memorial Lakota Museum in St. Francis, he spent hours photographing and documenting spinning wood tops, whirling bones and stone balls. A park ranger for 22 years with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and an avid fisherman, Marshall brought his outdoors expertise to the museum job and everything came together. “Being an artist, I just loved the idea of what the game pieces were made of,” says Marshall. “And with my natural resources background, I’m looking at the buffalo ribs, the buffalo horns, and it just really sparked an interest in me.”

Traditional Lakota games were played for competition and leisure by both adults and children. Some, like paslohanpi (javelins) or icaslohe iconpi (bowls) were traditionally played by women, while others like haka unpi (elk game), were played by men to practice hunting skills. The games demand excellent hand-eye coordination, like tasiha unpi (deer bone game), in which the player tries to catch a string of five deer toes on a thin pin.

Oscar Howe snow_skate.jpgYoung Cow Game by Oscar HoweSD State Historical Society


Winter games like paslohanpi (javelins) involve sliding buffalo horn-tipped wooden sticks across the ice at a target. “In the old days they’d spend a lot of time in one area,” says Marshall. “Obviously, you’d want to be close to water and a source of wood, so you’ve got really good variety of games for the wintertime.”

Marshall holds a fine arts degree from Sinte Gleska University. He also makes and scrimshaws knives, daggers, and jewelry, in addition to painting. He began crafting his own game pieces in 2004 after conserving the turn-of-the-century heirlooms at Buechel Museum. “I’d like to say I had this grand idea of preserving the culture, but really, I loved the artifacts,” says Marshall. “The sad part about the games nowadays is a lot of our folks don’t know about them. Really, I wouldn’t have known either if I hadn’t worked at the museum and researched that material.” Marshall’s personal hiking and fishing ventures often include materials scavenging. “It’s almost like a treasure hunt for me,” says Marshall. “Even though they’re just bones, hides, sticks, you have to know what you’re looking for.”

DL_Games1.jpgFamilies play icaslohe inconpi (bowls) on Lake Mitchell

Today Marshall and his son Joseph Marshall teach the games using Marshall’s hand-crafted equipment at events throughout the state, including the Lakota Games on Ice at Lake Mitchell. Organized by the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village and led by Marshall, the ice games get families out on the frozen lake in January for some much-needed winter activities. 

DL_GamePieces.jpgMike Marshall's handcrafted game pieces.Mike Marshall

Adams Nature Preserve

South Dakota’s 60 state parks and recreation areas include 349 miles of trails. In winter, ten miles at the Adams Nature Preserve in North Sioux City, SD, are groomed for cross country skiing. Dakota Life hits the trails for some classic and skate skiing in southeast South Dakota.

Tuesday Trekkers

Meet the Tuesday Trekkers, a group of friends who’ve committed themselves to meeting outdoors once-a-week for friendship, nature and exercise. We meet up to snowshoe with the group at Good Earth State Park southeast of Sioux Falls.

Watch the latest episode ofDakota Life, premiering Thursday, March 1, at 8pm (7 MT) on SDPB1.

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