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The centuries-old game of snow snake

What once was a form of communication between native villages, now continues as a form of recreation and comradery.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Here in Western New York, we love our winter sports and activities, from sledding to skiing, snowmobiling to snowshoeing. But there is one still played that predates them all: snow snake.

"According to the elders in Seneca (Nation) the game almost 600 years old," says Pete Bissell.  

Bissell, a native of the Tuscarora Nation, started playing as a teenager and is now almost 80. He points out that it is a game that predates Columbus. It is also a game that evolved out of a form of communication between villages.

 "You can still hear the old-time stories of when they would play on the frozen lake or river and then them stick should go for over mile" says fellow Tuscarora native Joe Rickard.

It is a game that links generations and one that has been rediscovered by many. On the day 2 On Your Side visited, several friends were gathered at the track built on land at Silo City. Pete Sheehan's family is originally from Six Nations, but he grew up on the Tuscarora territory. "Man this game to me just brings back good memories and you know just tradition." 

It is a game of technique, in not only execution, but also preparation. The sticks are the work of true craftsmen. They have different shellacs, different types of wood, and different wax for every temperature and condition. And building the track is a labor of love, forming a mound of snow and a precise straight line for hundreds of yards.

Bissell says "years ago it was a medicine game, now it's more or less for guys to get together every year. it's just the camaraderie of the thing." 

It's a medicine game meant to lift the spirits of the men during long winters, adds Sheehan. 

"You know, bringing the people together for something to do in between our growing season and then the maple season coming in, all this was just something we filled in time and you know brought the community together," said Sheehan. 

As a result, it is also an activity that brings generations together with their ancestors.