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  • Kendra Zamzow

Pole Pushers Get Low

The sun rose over the Chugach Mountains, lighting bare-limbed birch and aspen that surrounded the outdoor field at Sutton* Elementary. Two logs lay across plastic sawhorses. Each was ten feet long, about eight inches in diameter, and skinned free of bark.


Hands lifted the logs and carried them to the centers of two 20-foot diameter circles spray painted on the snow. The sport of Pole Push is the reverse of tug-of-war – instead of trying to pull your opponent across a line, you try to push them across.


Team Yukon men (U18 class) in white camo snow pants and t-shirts crouched to hold one end of a log, Alberta North on the opposite side.  Orange tape marked the midpoint of the log. The game would end when the midpoint crossed the circle, or when the log touched the ground. 


The push began, each team scrabbling in the snow, arms encircling the log.  Team anchors – at the log ends – dug in and yelled to their teammates.  The crowd joined in the advice.


“Push down! Use your weight!” called one.  “Get low like you’re showing off for the aunties!” brought a laugh from the crowd.


Men heaved and the log was pushed first to one side, then to the other.  Team members strained to keep a grip and  gain the advantage. It only took one slip for the tide, or the pole, to turn, for one team that was on the losing end a moment ago to rally and make the final push over the line. Each match lasted only a few minutes. In a nearby circle, the U18 female teams were battling.


With the weight of the log and the sheer strength and adrenaline put into moving it, the game has an element of danger.  Medics with a pulka full of gear were lined in a semi-circle around one ring.  Within the first few rounds, multiple athletes slipped and went down, fortunately none were injured. .


By the end of the final round for the U18 men’s event, Team Northwest Territories took first place, Team Nunavut second, and Team Kalaallit Nunaat third.  For the U18 women’s event, Team Nunavik took first, Team Alaska second, and Team Alberta North third.


We were proud to see that for this day, the Dene Games were played in Ts’es Tac’ilaexde, where the Ahtna Dene Chickaloon Native Village citizens have their roots and government.  It seemed a fitting place to end the Dene Games. And perhaps to begin new friendships.



* “Ts’es Tac’ilaexde” (swims among the rocks) is the Ahtna Dene name for Eska Creek, which flows through the town of Sutton, and is therefore also the name for the town of Sutton.


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