Shinny is a term usually used to refer to a sport comparable to hockey or lacrosse, played by Native American and Canadian First Nations tribes. There is also an informal Canadian hockey sport named shinny, in some variations identical to the Native American sport, suggesting the two share the same history.
Historically, the group of Native American sports referred to as shinny had a great number of variations among different tribes. The game resembled hockey, wherein two teams of variable numbers of players tried to pass a ball into the opponents’ goal using curved sticks. The game was often played on ice, like most variations of Canadian shinny. Among some tribes, Native American shinny was played by women much more often than men.
The name “shinny” may have initially been a misnomer, given to the sport by European settlers due to its similarities with the Scottish hockey sport shinty. Whether purposeful or not, the use of a single name helped identify variants of the sport among different tribes, whereas before European contact there were many names for the sport. For example, it was called tikauwich among the Chumash, ohonistuts among the Cheyenne, and gugahawat among the Arapaho. The disadvantage of using the name “shinny” is that it is also used to refer to an informal Canadian hockey sport, sometimes confusing the study of either sport. The similarities between the sports is likely the reason they share the same name.
Origins and History
Information regarding the origins and history of shinny is scant and somewhat controversial. The group of Native American sports now referred to as shinny may predate the Canadian sport by the same name. Some sources do claim that the sport predates European contact with native tribes, though primary sources to support these claims appear to be nonexistent.
It may also be the case that European settlers brought the game of shinty, colloquially called “shinny,” to North America, and that this collection of Native American sports was influenced by this game. This would explain why a sport with supposed Native American origins bears such similarity to a Scottish sport. As it stands, there is not enough information to verify or disprove either theory.
By the early 1900s, Native American oral tradition had incorporated shinny into its mythology (e.g., creation stories), as recorded in Stewart Culins’ Games of the North American Indians (initially published 1907). Whether shinny had been a part of Native American mythology before European contact is unknown, however.
How to Play
The collection of Native American sports referred to as shinny featured a number of variations among different tribes. The game could be played on ice or on solid ground, though it is more often associated with ice (and therefore, ice hockey – though without skates). Typically, two teams of 10 to 50 players each would attempt to pass a ball through the opponents’ goal, usually marked by distanced stakes in the ground. Each player wielded a curved stick with which to hit the ball, though they were often allowed to kick it as well. Players were not allowed to handle the ball with their hands.
Shinny sticks and shinny balls were crafted in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and materials among Native American tribes. It appears that even within a single tribe that the sticks and balls they crafted could feature wide variation. Some of these sticks that have been discovered resemble (by coincidence) golf clubs, hockey sticks, shinty sticks, hurling sticks, shepherds’ crooks, and spears. Others look more unique, unlike sticks used in other sports. These sticks could be purposefully carved or simply pulled off a tree, and were typically painted with bright colors. It seems that there was no standard with regard to the stick, and that each player could craft their own.
The ball also featured great variation, both in craftsmanship and material. Among different tribes, the ball would have been made of, to name a few examples, carved wood, bone, or sewn animal hide. Some balls were more pouch-like, made of stuff buckskin sewn at one end. It seems buckskin was the most common material with which the balls were made, though each tribe had a lot of liberty with the craft.
Culin, S. (2012). Games of the North American Indians. New York: Dover Publications.
Oxendine, J. B. (1995). American Indian sports heritage. University of Nebraska Press.
Frachtenberg, L. J. (2012). Lower umpqua texts and notes on the kusan dialects. Ulan Press.