World Eskimo-Indian Olympics...

When I saw that this unique event was happening, just when we were arriving in Fairbanks, I was pretty giddy. I have several "happenings" on my calendar, for various towns, but the timing has to be just right and today's couldn't have been more perfect.

We were very impressed by the premise of these Olympics. The games that are played display the preparedness one needed for survival. They require skill as well as strength, agility, and endurance. In this manner, the people could at least teach the children that they had to be tough to make it on their own, not just in one area, but in all. The games left no part of the body untested. Interesting, right?
For us Disney Princess fans, I was pretty excited by the emcee, Irene Bedard, the acting voice and physical model for the film Pocahontas (1995). Daughter of an Inupiat Eskimo and a French Canadian/Cree she was the perfect hostess for tonight's Opening Ceremony.
These beautiful women are contestants for the title of Miss WEIO, a person who "embodies the ideals for which the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics was created and agrees to share her knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Native Heritage with all. Miss WEIO is familiar with and has an understanding of WEIO and encompasses the spirit by honoring the strength, agility and endurance of the Native way of life. She will assist in the preservation and perpetuation of traditional Eskimo, Indian, Aleut and other indigenous people’s games of skill, dance and the arts."

In addition to various components of opening the Olympics, there was dancing and song. We really were shown much of the native culture and regalia.

While there are more athletic competitions happening throughout the weekend, we got to witness/participate in the Blanket toss or Nalukataq. This crazy event was designed to have fun after a successful whaling season. The blanket is made out of an old whaling skin boat. The skin blanket then has holes on the edges so that rope can be looped through all the way around and used for handle grips. It takes up to 50 gloved 'pullers' to make this event happen. When they asked for volunteers, I joined in (I wrote 'me' in white, note how high the 'contestant' is). When else would I get to be a part of the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics? AWESOME.
So the way this works is one contestant gets in the middle of the skin and stands there while being tossed. With a good coordinated effort on behalf of the pullers, the person being tossed can get as high as thirty feet in the air and should land on his/her feet without falling down. Sometimes you can see jumpers dancing or running in place and sometimes flips and somersaults are done to the delight of the pullers and spectators. This is quite similar to a trampoline, with the only difference being that people are the springs and they can move to catch an errant jumper. The judges look at balance, height and style in the air. All around form and grace are used to determine a winner.
My facial expression, sums up our first day in Fairbanks.

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3 comments:

Nick and Deb's Excellent Adventure said...

The native costumes are stunning! Perhaps we need to add Alaska to our bucket list!

Karen Booth said...

What a unique experience the WEIO was and how many people can say "I participated in a blanket toss in Alaska". I hope the building was very air conditioned because the beautiful costumes (and shoes) the girls were wearing looked really warm. What a sweet little face you photographed. I've seen the Disney "Pocahontas" movie so many times, I could have closed my eyes and seen the animated character listening to Irene's voice.

Participant said...

I enjoyed your blog very much! In regards to the comment by "Nick and Deb's Excellent Adventure" there are no such thing as native "costumes" in our culture. These are our clothes and is referred to as regalia. We still wear these daily (weather permitting.) To minimize the importance of our clothing by referring to it as a "costume" devalues its cultural significance not only to us, but other individuals who are not used to seeing our clothes.

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