Imagine if someone confiscated your favourite board game as a way of suppressing a piece of your culture. This was the fate of the game of Waltes throughout Nova Scotia. Dr. Angela Robinson is learning the game with the goal of passing on key aspects of Mi’kmaw cultural practices to Newfoundland Mi’kmaq.
Waltes is a traditional Mi’kmaw game that is found in various forms throughout North America. It is believed to have spread throughout northeastern North America via the trading routes and by partners of the Aboriginal group. The game is complex and how it is played varies regionally.
The Mi’kmaw version of the game is played on a circular wooden dish called a waltestaqn (wall tess stah ahn). There are six disk-shaped dice made of bone, each with one plain side and the other side marked with a design. The score is kept using sticks: four decorated sticks (the old man and his three wives) and 51 plain sticks (his children). To play, two players sit opposite each other with the dish between them, usually on a blanket. The dice are placed on the waltestaqn with marked faces downward. One player takes the dish in both hands, raises it and brings it down with enough force to flip the dice. The game begins when all but one of the upturned faces are marked or unmarked. Points are earned for five of a kind dice or when all six dice are the same. The player remains in control of the bowl until she or he fails to score. The amount of winnings is taken from the pile of sticks, forming a private pile and then the other player repeats the dice throwing until they too fail to score. Scoring is carried out following a complicated set of rules and game play can continue indefinitely.1
The game of Waltes holds social and cultural significance for the Mi’kmaq of Eastern Canada. So far, Dr. Robinson has taught one student to play the game and is working with a second. She eventually plans to pass it on to Mi’kmaw communities throughout western Newfoundland.
“The game can be shared with the broader Mi’kmaw community and can also be taught at the primary and elementary school levels as a part of cultural awareness and for teaching numeracy skills,” said Dr. Robinson.
Although Dr. Robinson is non-aboriginal, she is an active member of the Corner Brook Aboriginal Women’s Association (CBAWA) and the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women’s Network (NAWN). With the help of a MUCEP student assistant, she plans to bring the game of Waltes to both the CBAWA and to the Bay St. George’s Cultural Circle.
Stansbury Hagar, in
Games of the North American Indian, Volume One Games of Chance
, by Stuart Culin, published by University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 1992, pp.74-76.