Arctic Games

Why race?

Geography, social science, physics,

Why race? When 20 mushers set out to run serum across Alaska in 1925, it was to safe people from the diphtheria  disease—it was a race for life. From the run it became evident that some dogs and mushers, such as the Norwegian musher Sepalla and his Chukchi dog Balto were outstanding athletes in a class of their own. Today the Iditarod race commemorated this run and celebrates the athletes in the sport of long distance sled dog racing and the historic importance of sled dogs to Alaska. We have games and competitions to practice and compete in life skills important to our culture.

Scroll down for activity! Or click to download Arctic Games Activity (PDF)



1) Ask students what their favorite game is. Do they know a favorite game of their parents? As most likely displayed by the answers, there are many types of games. Some are physical, some games require a lot of room to play, and others require special equipment.

2) Is there anywhere in the world where people do not play games? Why do people play games? List answers on the board: exercise, fun, etc.

3) Introduce to students that the high Arctic, such as along the northern coast line of Beringia, in Chukotka and Alaska where the Iditarod race takes place spans, experience weeks even months of complete darkness and very harsh conditions. Share with students how the Native peoples here had to develop many skills and much strength to survive and how games were an essential part of traditional life.

Beyond the seriousness of traditional games, the Native people also invented the games so that they could have fun! Living on the land in the winter meant a lot of time spent inside their homes, traditionally snow, skin and sod structures. These were not very big (often no bigger than the size of the jump circle in the middle of a basketball court). At times they were not able to go outside for many days.

Ask students if people in Beringia still live in snow, skin and sod structures? Though the Inuit live in houses just like most people down south, many of the games are still played!

4) Students go online to play games at — Students should identify what makes the game specific to the environment, and what important set of survival skills or traditional knowledge is being practiced.

6) Time to get physical. Divide students into teams and have them select or assign one of the following traditional Arctic games:

– kneel jump – back push – airplane (needs five students) – sitting knuckle pull – leg wrestle – knucklehop – mouth pull – musk ox

These games are described online by a group of Inuit sixth grade students at http://www.athropolis. com/news-upload/11-data/index.htm

Each team of students will investigate how to play one of the games and demonstrate it for the class. Allow students time to learn and practice the assigned game.

Once students feel confident, pull desks out of the way and arrange chairs in a circle. Have students write the name of game on board and demonstrate how to play in the middle of the circle. Ask students which skills they think were further developed by participation in each game, and how these skills were useful to Inuit survival in their environment?

7) Ask students if sled dog racing such as the Iditarod is a game? Why, why not?

Wumpa's World

Traditional Arctic Games

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