Arctic Survival Skills: Traditional Inuit Games

Looking to incorporate physical activity and movement into your instruction? Would you like to connect your students’ physical education class with what they’re learning in the classroom? Playing traditional Inuit games is an engaging way for students to consider how the Arctic environment shaped Arctic culture and how the Inuit have adapted to its harsh conditions.


Inuit games played by children built the physical and mental skills needed for hunting and survival in the Arctic. The games required little or no equipment and often stressed physical strength, endurance, agility, and tolerance of pain. A few examples of traditional games include:

One-Foot High Kick and Two-Foot High Kick

In the high kick, a target (such as a bone or a piece of fur) is suspended at a given height. A player begins in a standing position, with both feet together, and jumps up to kick the hanging target with one foot, landing on the same foot that kicked the target. The player must maintain his balance on landing. All players attempt to kick the target in the same way, completing the first round. Players who do not successfully kick the target are eliminated. For the second round, the target is raised a few inches. Rounds are continued until one player remains.

Watch video of the One-Foot High Kick and a 94 inch Two-Foot High Kick below.

One-Foot High Kick

View this video within the YouTube web site.

Two-Foot High Kick

View this video within the YouTube web site.

Alaskan High Kick

The Alaskan High Kick is similar to the One- and Two-Foot High Kick in that the objective is to kick a hanging target. However, in this game, the player holds one foot with one hand, balances on the other hand, and then extends the other leg up to kick the target.

Watch video of the Alaskan High Kick from the 2007 Native Youth Olympics:

Watch this video within the YouTube web site.

Knuckle Hop

In this game, the player takes a pushup position with his hands in fists so that all upper body weight is placed on the knuckles. The player then lifts up his legs and bounces forward on his fists and toes. The player who goes the furthest distance wins.

Watch video of the Knuckle Hop event at the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in 2006.

Watch this video within the YouTube web site.

Ear Pull

This game tests competitors’ ability to endure pain. Two players sit on the floor facing each other. A loop of leather cord is strung between two of the players’ ears. Players then use their ear to pull on the cord until the cord comes free or the other player quits from the pain. This event can cause bleeding and some players require stitches. Some Arctic competitions have removed this event due to safety concerns.

Watch women compete in the ear pull at the 2007 World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in Anchorage, Alaska.

Watch this video within the YouTube web site.

Blanket Toss

The blanket toss originated as a way for hunters to be able to see across the horizon but is now conducted for entertainment. Thirty or more people form a circle, holding the edges of a large skin or blanket, and toss a person into the air as high as possible. The object is to maintain balance and return to the blanket without falling over.

Watch video of the blanket toss at the 2006 World Eskimo-Indian Olympics.

Watch this video within the YouTube web site.

Today, Inuit children continue to learn and play these games – both for the development of needed skills and for competition. The Native Youth Olympics, a yearly competition held in Alaska for students in grades 7-12, the Arctic Winter Games, an annual circumpolar competition, and the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics are just three examples of highly visible events that include traditional Inuit games.


While some traditional games like the ear pull and blanket toss are not suitable for the classroom, others can easily be incorporated into a lesson or unit on Inuit culture. Stage your own competition in your classroom – or just have students try some of the games and discuss how they might build useful skills for Arctic living. You might set up stations in your classroom or the gym or even plan a collaborative lesson with your school’s physical education teacher. Providing reflection questions and following the games with a class discussion or writing prompt will help students get the most out of the activity.

Traditional Inuit Games
The Inuit people of the Arctic developed games and sports that often included skills needed to survive in the harsh environment. The web site includes instructions and pictures of eight traditional games.

Traditional Inuit Games Lesson Plan
A lesson plan that incorporates eight traditional games.

One World Classrooms: Inuit Games
Browse descriptions and view pictures of students playing traditional games.

Inuit Games
Background information, illustrations, and photographs of artifacts used in traditional Inuit games.

Inuit Games
Background information, illustrations, and photographs of artifacts used in traditional Inuit games.

This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.

Copyright October 2009 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *