SDSU Extension encourages Native American games for physical activity

Farm Forum

BROOKINGS, S.D. – Traditional Native American games may be a good option to reduce childhood obesity rates in some South Dakota communities, explained Prairey Walkling, SDSU Extension Community Development Field Specialist.

Many traditional Native games of old have been replaced by European competitions. In response, the International Traditional Games Society, founded in 1998 by tribal college presidents and cultural directors from Montana and Southern Alberta, Canada, has made it their mission to recover and restore what’s been lost. In so doing, they discovered a window to the past charged with relevancy for today’s modern youth and a beautiful medium in which Native American youth, adults, and elders find restored cultural identity.

Promoting mental, physical, social, and spiritual health, the games offer far more than camaraderie and competition; they teach survival skills and encourage unity in the clan, band, and tribe.

Walkling further explained that re-introducing traditional games is in response to concerns about child obesity rates in South Dakota. In South Dakota about 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese.

This August, SDSU Extension and its partners hosted training in Traditional Native American Games led by the International Traditional Games Society. In this clinic, Wellness Coalition members and youth experienced games of chance and intuition as well as games of physical skill. They were taught the historical significance of the games, plus how to responsibly harvest materials and craft the game pieces. Participants were able to hand-carve, stitch, and paint game pieces for more than 20 games and learn more about the neuroscience of play. Representatives from local Wellness Coalitions from Lakota Homes/North Rapid, Parmelee, Crow Creek, Lower Brule and McLaughlin each attended the training.

The event was co-sponsored by SDSU Extension, Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board, Partnership Rapid City, a 1416 Grant from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the SD Department of Social Services, Office of Economic Assistance as part of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed).

For more information, visit, call or email Walkling at 605-394-1722 and