For many Native Americans, games were a form of entertainment, but they also served important social, ceremonial, and political purposes. Games often taught skills and values necessary for adult life, such as patience, sportsmanship, dexterity, hand-eye coordination, endurance, and critical thinking. Games also strengthened political and social relationships by creating a communal atmosphere for socialization, a way to resolve conflicts without going to war, and an opportunity for political allies to stay in contact.
Most of the two dozen games displayed in the new temporary exhibit Native Games can be found, with some variation, among tribes in the United States and Canada. All tribes played games of skill and chance, racing and relay games, throwing and catching games, games that imitated hunting and war, games that were played alone and those that were played with a group.