Our Santa Ynez Chumash ancestors played a variety of traditional sports in their day and used sports as a way to participate in social activities as well as demonstrate the athletic abilities of tribal men and tribal women.
They played Hoop and Pole Game, or payas, which involved a ring or hoop made from a willow twig wrapped in buckskin that was rolled along the ground in a straight line. The player waited for the ring to roll by and, at the proper time, would throw the spear, aiming for the center of the ring.
They also played Peon, or ’alewsa, that consisted of two teams of two or more players each. Each of the players of one team has one black and one white short stick or bone, which are hidden in their hands. The purpose of the game is to prevent the opponents from guessing which hand the white bone is in.
Another game, Shinny, or tikauwich, was one of the most popular team games played by our Chumash ancestors. The game required a square playing area of about 300 yards on a side. Each team had facing goal posts, and the players were armed with shinny sticks, a curved stick that resembles a hockey stick and a ball made of either wood or leather. The object of the game was to put the small ball through the opponent’s goal post by striking the ball with great force. The game required endurance, strength and great skills.
Like our ancestors of yesteryear, our native youth excel in sports but today their sports are wrestling, football, basketball, baseball and tennis. I have attended a number of games at local schools and have seen many students from our reservation participating in variety of sports.
I’ve seen our tribal boys showing their skills and strength in wrestling and demonstrating support and bonding in a way that can only be experienced by participating in team sports. I have also seen our native girls demonstrating their superb athletic skills and excellent sportsmanship in sports like basketball.
It’s especially heartwarming to see the tradition of participation in sports carried on through so many generations of Chumash and played out on the fields and courts of our local schools.
As I sit in the bleachers watching our tribal youth, I am filled with pride at our young athletes demonstrating teamwork and camaraderie as their ancestors did so many years ago. I am particularly proud when I watch one of my daughters, who is the co-captain of the girl’s basketball team at the Santa Ynez Valley High School, demonstrate her skills as a team player and athlete.
We know that Native American athletes are capable of reaching greatness, as Olympic Gold Meda-list Billy Mills proved. He is a wonderful inspiration and role model for both our children and adults and has a motivational story to tell about the many challenges he faced on his journey to bring home the gold.
It’s great to see our young tribal students so active in local sports and carrying on the tradition of our Chumash ancestors as skillful, talented and inspirational team players.
Nakia Zavalla is the culture director of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.