Kwezage’win: Two-Sided Dice Game

written by students at the Hannahville Indian School
submitted by Richard Sgarlotti
Quinnesec, MI, United States

This two-sided dice game is just one of many played by most tribes in North America. Besides the wooden bowl, dice were contained in baskets or pottery to be shaken. In addition to these dice made from bone, other tribes used dice made from peach pits, flat stones, acorns, shells, or carved stickes.

This particular game is in the archives of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., with pictures and research done by students of the Hannahville Indian School in Michigan.


The game was played only by women and mostly in the winter. Like other games, this one is also sponsored by a woman in honor of her guardian spirit, and similar ceremonial preliminaries are held. After the feast, a blanket is spread out on the floor, and the women sit in a circle, but divided into 2 teams with each side sitting in a semi-circle facing the other.

As many women can play as want to, but there are only four prizes — yard goods of red, blue, green, and white. The gaming equipment consists of a wooden bowl and 8 dice, 6 of which are thin, circular discs. One is carved in the form of a turtle and one represents a horse’s head. Dice were formerly made of buffalo rib, but horse’s ribs are used at present.

How to Play

One surface of each die is colored blue (red may also be used). Thus each die has a colored and a white side. The bowl is held with both hands, and the dice shaken to the far side of the bowl which is given one flip, set on the floor, and the score counted.

  • All of similar color except 2, counts 1 point
  • All of similar color except 1, counts 3 points
  • All of similar color except turtle, counts 5 points
  • All of similar color except horse, counts 10 points
  • All of similar color counts 8 points
  • All of similar color except turtle and horse counts 10 points

Keeping Score

The score is tallied by the woman laying out the correct number of bean counters in front of her. Each woman shakes until she misses twice, and passes on the bowl in a clockwise rotation. The first to score 10 points wins the game, and a piece of the yard goods is given to one of the men spectators, who returns a gift of equal value in the future.

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Math Questions

  1. What is the probability of all dice coming up red on one flip?
  2. How does scoring change if there are more or less dice?
  3. Because these are two-sided dice, how might lessons from Pascal’s Triangle are used to construct a more equitable scoring system for the game?

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Social Justice Questions

Indian gaming has been around for a long time before the 1989 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and was used as a method of distribution of wealth. It is related to the “gift economy,” a mode of exchange where valuables are not sold, but given in some way.

  1. Why do you think gambling was used instead of giving goods away?
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of American Indian gaming today?

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  1. Learn about and play a version of a similar game
  2. Visit the site of the National Museum of the American Indian
  3. Read The Potawatomi Indians of Wisconsin by Robert E. Rizenthaler, Milwaukee Public Museum Bulletin, Vol. 19, No. 3, January 1953.

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