In Search of the Meaning of Games in Life: A Journey to Northern Sweden

Blog post by John Kilbourne Ph.D. Professor Movement Science Grand Valley State University.

During spring break (March 9-11, 2016) I was invited to be a featured presenter at the Aktanse II (Together II) Conference – New Concepts, Theories and Methodologies on Saami Studies at Umea University in northern Sweden.  The title of my presentation was, “Using Traditional Arctic Games to Promote Peace and Sustainability in the North.”  My presentation was the culmination of many years of lived experience and research on the games of Arctic people, including a GVSU sponsored sabbatical to the Arctic of Norway in 2011.  My trip to Sweden was made possible by support from GVSU’s CSCE and the Pew FTLC.

With climate change expanding trade routes in the Arctic and the resultant pursuit of oil, gas, mineral deposits, and fish, it is imperative that the eight Arctic countries find paths towards sustainability and peace in the region.  Revisiting and understanding the traditional games of the indigenous people of these regions can go a long way towards helping those determining the region’s future to work cooperatively towards these goals.

Throughout history the games we have played have been a testament about who we were, and are.  From early Inuit bone and hunting games, to the gladiator contests of Ancient Rome, to the modern American game of baseball, the games we play have served as a statement of and a rehearsal for the life-world of that period and place.  By reconnecting with and understanding the games of our past, we can build meaningful bridges between our past and present, and hopefully gain a better understanding of our modern world.  The aforesaid are timely and important, especially as they relate to indigenous people throughout the world who are trying to preserve their traditions in a fast changing modern world.  Hopefully by acknowledging these lessons we can pursue a path forward, together reconnecting with the traditional games of the Arctic with the hope of building meaningful bridges between the past and present and moreover, helping to enhance our understanding of the important role traditional games can play in shaping an Arctic where sustainability and peace flourish.

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My presentation at the Aktasne II Conference was a Moving success.  I received many affirming comments on both the content and playful delivery.  Most important, I made many new friends and connections at the conference that may serve to further my research and travel to the Arctic in years to come.  In addition to my participation at the three day conference, I was also able to visit the Saami Exhibition at the Nordiska Museum in Stockholm, and the Saami Rock Art and Ski Exhibition at the Vasterbottens Museum in Umea, Sweden.  As part of their permanent collection the Vasterbottens Museum has the oldest snow skis on record (5200 years old).  While in Stockholm I was also able to visit the Stockholm Stadion, home of the 1912 Winter Olympic Games.

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My participation at the conference and travels in Sweden affirmed again the importance of international travel.  I will share my experiences in my classes at GVSU (Honors Junior Seminar – Traditional Games of the Arctic), at future conferences, and in scholarly writings.  My hope is that my experiences help motivate my students to consider studying abroad.

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