World Eskimo-Indian Olympics Celebrating Alaska Native Culture and Traditions
by PEDRO GRATEROL
The World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (WEIO), an annual event deeply rooted in the cultural heritage of Alaska Native people, is set to captivate audiences once again in Fairbanks from July 12-15 of this year. The games, which began in 1961, have become a symbol of celebration, community, and the preservation of traditional skills that have been passed down through generations. Originating from small village gatherings, the WEIO has evolved into a grand event showcasing a wide range of athletic games, including strength, endurance, balance, and agility. These physical challenges are complemented by dancing, storytelling, and audience participation, fostering friendly competition and providing entertainment for all.
Gina Kalloch, a member of the WEIO Board of Governors, has been involved with the games for several years. In a recent interview with Sol de Medianoche News, she shared that her initial experience in the games was as an impromptu competitor in the Indian Stick Pull event during the early ‘80s, stating: “At the time I was in my 20s and working in construction as an apprentice carpenter. So I went through the other competition fairly easily.” From there, Kalloch has embraced various roles within the WEIO, from competitor to coach and floor official.
The games feature a variety of competitions, each rooted in traditional skills passed down by Alaska Native communities. Kalloch highlighted the significance of these events, saying: “The high kicks come from the practice of using body movements to send messages over long distances in the Arctic. The Inuit stick pull is practice for pulling game through a hole in the ice when hunting in winter. Everything has its origin in practicing skills that aid in survival in a harsh environment.”
However, the games are more than a competition, they are a celebration of Alaska Native culture, showcasing a sense of community and connection. Kalloch emphasized the interactions among participants, stating: “While they compete against each other, they also coach each other. This is the traditional way these events, and many cultural activities, are taught.” Through this educational approach, it’s ensured that the traditions are passed down to the next generation, and this is very important for Kalloch: “WEIO’s mission is to preserve and promote these cultural events. I feel it is important to keep our traditions vibrant and connect our youth to their cultures. My children have also been involved throughout their lives and I hope my grandchildren will be as well.”
Beyond the competition, the WEIO serves as a catalyst for bringing people together from across different cultures. Kalloch expressed her appreciation for the sense of community the games have fostered, noting: “Participants and visitors are able to meet and interact with people they may otherwise never have encountered. It encourages understanding of other cultures and lifestyles, making the world a better place.” As the anticipation builds for this year’s WEIO, Kalloch had a final message for audiences: “We love sharing our culture. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.” This is a great opportunity for attendees to fully immerse themselves in the rich tapestry of Alaska Native traditions, ensuring an engaging and enlightening experience for everyone. After all, every Alaskan should be involved in the preservation of Native culture and traditions.