Snow snake

Last updated
TypeOutdoor, winter
Country or region Great Lakes region of North America

Snow snake is a Native American winter sport traditionally played by many tribes in the Great Lakes region, including the Ojibwe, Sioux, Wyandotte, Oneida and other Haudenosaunee people. [1] [2]



A game of snow snake is played by four teams, called "corners", who compete in trying to throw their wooden "snow snakes" the farthest along a long trough, or track, of snow. The game is divided into rounds, and in a round each team gets four throws. At the end of each round, two points are awarded to the team of the person who made the farthest throw in the round, and one point is awarded for the second farthest throw. Play continues until one of the teams wins, by achieving a certain predetermined number of points (usually 7 or 11). [3]

There are two roles on a snow snake team: the Player, and the Goaler. The main role of a Goaler is to craft and maintain a team's wooden "snow snakes" in between games. The Goaler is also tasked with selecting which will be used for each throw during the game. A Player, meanwhile, is a player who actually throws the snow snakes during a game. [3]


Full-size snow snakes at Ganondagan State Historic Site GanondaganWinterGames2019LongSnowSnakes.jpg
Full-size snow snakes at Ganondagan State Historic Site

The poles used in the game, collectively known as "snow snakes", have different names depending on their length. The smallest poles used are the six-inch-long "snow darts". [1] The next size up is the three-foot-long "short snake", [4] also known as a "mud cat". [3] Longer poles are known only as "snow snakes", and can be anywhere from six to ten feet in length. [1] Snow snakes can be made from a variety of materials. In the Sioux tribe, they were traditionally made of bone, with feathers trailing behind for symbolic decoration, [1] while other tribes traditionally used native North American hardwoods, such as maple, oak, apple, hickory, and juneberry. [3] In modern times, other hardwoods not traditionally available, such as ebony, have become popular materials for snow snakes. [3] Many players customize their snow snakes, by decorating them with colorful designs, or adding minor modifications, such as waxing the wooden surface. [1]

The trough, or track, that snow snakes are thrown down is typically five inches deep, rising up in a slope at the end where the players stand. [3] In modern times, some groups will add obstacles like jumps or snow barriers to their tracks, for added interest. [1]


According to the Iroquois oral tradition, the game of snow snake dates back more than 500 years, to before the arrival of Europeans in North America. Originally a form of communication between villages, the throwing of "snow snakes" in a trough of snow developed into a competitive sport during long winters when the long track was not used for communication. [3] The name "snow snake" is said to have come from the serpentine wiggling motion of the poles as they slide down the icy track. [2]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Snowshoe</span> Footwear for walking easily across snow

Snowshoes are specialized outdoor gear for walking over snow. Their large footprint spreads the user's weight out and allows them to travel largely on top of rather than through snow. Adjustable bindings attach them to appropriate winter footwear.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hiawatha</span> First Nations leader and co-founder of the Iroquois League

Hiawatha, also known as Ayenwathaaa or Aiionwatha, was a precolonial Native American leader and co-founder of the Iroquois Confederacy. He was a leader of the Onondaga people, the Mohawk people, or both. According to some accounts, he was born an Onondaga but adopted into the Mohawks.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ojibwe</span> Group of indigenous peoples in North America

The Ojibwe, Ojibwa, Chippewa, or Saulteaux are an Anishinaabe people in what is currently southern Canada, the northern Midwestern United States, and Northern Plains.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Algonquin people</span> Indigenous people of Eastern Canada

The Algonquin people are an Indigenous people who now live in Eastern Canada. They speak the Algonquin language, which is part of the Algonquian language family. Culturally and linguistically, they are closely related to the Odawa, Potawatomi, Ojibwe, Mississauga and Nipissing, with whom they form the larger Anicinàpe (Anishinaabeg). Algonquins call themselves Omàmiwinini or the more generalised name of Anicinàpe.

The Seneca are a group of Indigenous Iroquoian-speaking people who historically lived south of Lake Ontario, one of the five Great Lakes in North America. Their nation was the farthest to the west within the Six Nations or Iroquois League (Haudenosaunee) in New York before the American Revolution.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Onondaga people</span> Ethnic group

The Onondaga people are one of the original five constituent nations of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy in northeast North America. Their traditional homeland is in and around present-day Onondaga County, New York, south of Lake Ontario. They are known as Gana’dagwëni:io’geh to the other Iroquois tribes. Being centrally located, they are considered the "Keepers of the Fire" in the figurative longhouse that shelters the Five Nations. The Cayuga and Seneca have territory to their west and the Oneida and Mohawk to their east. For this reason, the League of the Iroquois historically met at the Iroquois government's capital at Onondaga, as the traditional chiefs do today.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Indian reservation</span> Land managed by Native American nations under the US Bureau of Indian Affairs

An Indian reservation is an area of land held and governed by a federally recognized Native American tribal nation whose government is accountable to the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs and not to the state government in which it is located. Some of the country's 574 federally recognized tribes govern more than one of the 326 Indian reservations in the United States, while some share reservations, and others have no reservation at all. Historical piecemeal land allocations under the Dawes Act facilitated sales to non–Native Americans, resulting in some reservations becoming severely fragmented, with pieces of tribal and privately held land being treated as separate enclaves. This jumble of private and public real estate creates significant administrative, political and legal difficulties.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Economy of the Iroquois</span> Economy of the Iroquois Confederacy

The economy of the Haudenosaunee historically was based on communal production and combined elements of both horticulture and hunter-gatherer systems. Some have described the Iroquois economy as primitive communism. The tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy and other Northern Huron had their traditional territory in what is now New York State and the southern areas bordering the Great Lakes. The confederacy was originally composed of five tribes; the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Seneca, who had created an alliance long before European contact. The Tuscarora were added as a sixth nation in the early eighteenth century after they migrated from North Carolina. The Huron peoples, located mostly in what is now Canada, were also Iroquoian-speaking and shared some culture, but were never part of the Iroquois.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Assiniboine</span> First Nations people native to the northern Great Plains of North America

The Assiniboine or Assiniboin people, also known as the Hohe and known by the endonym Nakota, are a First Nations/Native American people originally from the Northern Great Plains of North America.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Longhouses of the indigenous peoples of North America</span>

Longhouses were a style of residential dwelling built by Native American First Nation peoples in various parts of North America. Sometimes separate longhouses were built for community meetings.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of lacrosse</span> Aspect of history

Lacrosse has its origins in a tribal game played by eastern Woodlands Native Americans and by some Plains Indians tribes in what is now the United States of America and Canada. The game was extensively modified by European settlers to create its current collegiate and professional form. There were hundreds of native men playing a ball game with sticks. The game began with the ball being tossed into the air and the two sides rushing to catch it. Because of the large number of players involved, these games generally tended to involve a huge mob of players swarming the ball and slowly moving across the field. Passing the ball was thought of as a trick, and it was seen as cowardly to dodge an opponent. Years later lacrosse is still a popular sport played all over the world.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ganondagan State Historic Site</span> United States historic place

Ganondagan State Historic Site, also known as Boughton Hill, is a Native American historic site in Ontario County, New York in the United States. Location of the largest Seneca village of the 17th century, the site is in the present-day Town of Victor, southwest of the Village of Victor. The village was also referred to in various spellings as Gannagaro, Canagora, Gandagora, Gandagaro and Gannontaa.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oneida Indian Nation</span> Indigenous tribe of North America

The Oneida Indian Nation (OIN) or Oneida Nation is a federally recognized tribe of Oneida people in the United States. The tribe is headquartered in Verona, New York, where the tribe originated and held its historic territory long before European colonialism. It is an Iroquoian-speaking people, and one of the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, or Haudenosaunee. Three other federally recognized Oneida tribes operate in locations where they migrated or were removed to during and after the American Revolutionary War: one in Wisconsin in the United States, and two in Ontario, Canada.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oglala</span> Traditional tribal grouping within the Lakota people

The Oglala are one of the seven subtribes of the Lakota people who, along with the Dakota, make up the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ. A majority of the Oglala live on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the eighth-largest Native American reservation in the United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Iroquois</span> Indigenous confederacy in North America

The Iroquois, officially the Haudenosaunee, are an Iroquoian-speaking confederacy of First Nations peoples in northeast North America/Turtle Island. They were known during the colonial years to the French as the Iroquois League, and later as the Iroquois Confederacy. The English called them the Five Nations, comprising the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca. After 1722, the Iroquoian-speaking Tuscarora people from the southeast were accepted into the confederacy, which became known as the Six Nations.

The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, also known as the Harvard Project, was founded in 1987 at Harvard Kennedy School at Harvard University. It administers tribal awards programs as well as provides support for students and conducting research. The Harvard Project aims to understand and foster the conditions under which sustained, self-determined social and economic development is achieved among American Indian nations through applied research and service.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Indigenous North American stickball</span> Team sport in North America

Indigenous North American stickball is a team sport typically played on an open field where teams of players with two sticks each attempt to control and shoot a ball at the opposing team's goal. It shares similarities to the game of lacrosse. In Choctaw Stickball, "Opposing teams use handcrafted sticks or kabocca, and a woven leather ball, or towa. Each team tries to advance the ball down the field to the other team's goalpost using only their sticks, never touching or throwing the ball with their hands. Points are scored when a player hits the opposing team's goalpost with the ball."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arctic sports</span>

Arctic sports or Inuit games (Iñupiaq: anaktaqtuat) refer to a number of sports disciplines popularly practiced in the Arctic, primarily by the indigenous peoples of the region, such as the Inuit. Arctic sports often refer to the sports of Yamal, Alaska, Greenland and parts of Canada, while sports of the First Nations are referred to as Dene games. Traditional Greenlandic sports are referred to as Kalaallit Pinnguaataat. Many of the sports and disciplines are largely athletic in nature, while others lean more towards martial arts or gymnastics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Native American recreational activities</span>

Early Native American recreational activities consisted of diverse sporting events, card games, and other innovative forms of entertainment that tribes invented using natural resources and materials. Most of these games and sporting events were recorded by observations from the early 1700s. Common athletic contests held by early American tribes included games of stickball, chunkey, archery, darts, foot races, and canoeing. Card and dice games were commonly used as forms of entertainment among tribes such as the Iroquois and Lakota. Several contests and games invented by American indigenous groups contributed to modern-day sports and casino play. Several indigenous games were tribe-specific; one of the most common games played specifically by the Iroquoian was the Bowl Game, played using colored balls and sticks.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Jeff Horwich (28 January 2003). "Snow snakes: Native game lives on in Minnesota's frozen winter". Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved 17 April 2013.
  2. 1 2 ICTMN Staff (3 January 2012). "Learning to Play Snow Snake Is a 'Sacred Rite of Passage'". Indian Country Today Media Network. Retrieved 17 April 2013.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Llewellyn, Carol White (2009). "Snow Snake, a Sport Steeped in Tradition". Ganondagan. Friends of Ganondagan. Retrieved 17 April 2013.
  4. "SPORTS - Snowsnake". Onondanga Nation: People of the Hills. Onondanga Nation. 2007. Retrieved 17 April 2013.