Alaska - The 42nd Annual World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (WEIO) was
held July 16 - 19 in Fairbanks. The event was designed to help
maintain traditional activities that were critical to survival
in the harsh environments near the Arctic Ocean. Some activities
were beginning to disappear as lifestyles changed. Abilities were
being lost that could have meant the difference between life and
death on the ice flows off the northern coast of Alaska.
Aiken, a respected elder from Barrow stated, "these are the
training grounds ... they will use these abilities when theyre
out on the ice." The Olympic banner reads "Healthy lifestyles
through pride, strength and tradition."
is also the desire to keep the cultures alive and healthy. In listening
to the candidates for WEIO Queen, it was immediately apparent that
keeping the culture alive is very important to them. Each young
lady initially spoke in her Native language and virtually all repeated
the desire to pass the traditions learned from their elders on to
Cleavor, 24, Miss Nuchalawoyya, was crowned WEIO Queen for 2003.
A graduate of the University of Alaska- Anchorage in social work,
she plans to enroll in a masters program this fall in St.
Louis, Mo. while still representing WEIO at shows and events throughout
is also about games and competing and athletes competed in more
than 30 events. These events are unique to this region and most
have the similar thread of maintaining strength and agility to survive.
To use the Eskimo stick pull game as an example, competitors sit
facing each other with their feet together and their hands on a
short stick. All hands must touch. The contestants then attempt
to pull the stick out of the others hands. It involves a great
deal of hand, leg and back strength and the winner must win two
of three attempts. Such strength was necessary when pulling a seal
through a breathing hole, critical to survival.
Kagak of Barrow won the mens division. Kagak is a massive
man of 400 pounds and appeared to win with ease although he later
said, "these guys are getting tougher." He hasnt
lost in this event since 1994 although he missed a couple of years
because hunting was good and he needed to stock up on meat for the
winter. When asked about his strength, he replied, "Im
a hunter. Just last week we killed eight walrus and throwing those
huge slabs of meat into the boats helps make you strong."
Alaskan High Kick is a popular event with spectators. Here, the
athlete sits on the floor with one hand holding the opposite foot.
The other hand is placed on the floor and supports the weight as
the athlete springs up and attempts to kick a ball suspended from
a beam. The hand must remain on the floor and they must land in
the same position as they start. The person kicking highest is the
is both a mens and a womens division in most events,
including the high kick. The world record for men is held by Jesse
Frankson of Pt. Hope and he duplicated his record of 710"
again at WEIO. His attempt for 711" was high enough but
he missed the suspended ball.
popular spectator event is the Two-Foot High Kick. The competitors
must jump with two feet, kick a ball suspended below a beam using
both feet, and land on two feet. Again, the one to kick highest
is the winner. Phillip Blanchett of Anchorage won with a kick of
76", substantially below the world record of 88."
Historically, leaping into the air and kicking with two feet was
a sign in the whaling villages that a whale had been taken. A runner
would race toward the village and leap and kick with both feet so
the villagers could see the message and prepare to help in beaching
Johnston won the womens division for the 16th time in 17 years.
Johnston is an amazing athlete in her early 30s who regularly defeats
much taller women who are considerably younger. Johnston also won
the kneel jump, an event resembling a standing long jump but done
from the knees and without the hands touching the floor.
blanket toss is another favorite. The "blanket" is actually
a number of bearded seal skins sewn together to form a circle about
10 feet in diameter with a heavy rope laced around the perimeter
to allow about 40 people to grasp. These people develop a cadence
of pulling and relaxing to raise and lower the competitor standing
on the blanket. When the person in charge gives the word, all give
a strong pull outward to throw the competitor into the air. The
winner is based not only on height but also on form and landing.
confusion exists on whether this was historically done to get higher
and thus see farther or whether it was simply a game of fun. Bob
Aiken said the history is from whaling villages where whalers would
place the blanket on the ground and dance on it after a successful
youth movement appeared to be under way in the one-foot high kick
where John Miller III, 15, from Barrow kicked 86" to
defeat the world record holder and Elizabeth Rexford, 17, of Fairbanks
kicked 6 even to win the womens division. Competitors
leap from one foot, kick the ball with the same foot, and also land
on that same foot. Its difficult!
were competitions other than athletic events. The Native baby contest
brought exclamations of admiration of their beautiful outfits, often
little parkas adorned with a variety of furs and wearing sealskin
moccasins. Adults also competed in a regalia contest. Deva Olson
and her baby son Leonard from Barrow, were crowd favorites. Each
wore beautiful fur parkas and muklucks but also exhibited equally
beautiful clothes beneath the parkas. Leonard went through about
three reductions in clothes to finally end up with a sealskin vest
and pants - plus a small handmade wooden sled to be pulled in.
tables were set up above the bleachers surrounding the arena floor.
Ivory and whalebone carvings, scrimshaw, sealskin moccasins, Eskimo
and Athabaskan dolls and other items seldom seen at shows in the
lower 48 states were displayed for sale.