This summer athletes, vendors, and spectators will gather from around the world in Fairbanks to celebrate the 52nd Annual World Eskimo Indian Olympics.
The World Eskimo Indian Olympics started in Fairbanks in 1961 drawing participants from villages around Alaska. The games were started as a way of carrying on the tradition of having neighboring villages get together to compete in games of strength, balance, endurance, and agility. Along with these competitions there was also traditionally dancing, storytelling, and catching up with old friends.
Since the first games 52 years ago the event has grown, the number of participants, and the places they come from have grown as well. Participants now come from many of the Northern regions of the world such as Canada and Greenland, as well as Native Americans from around the continent. Last year, the World Eskimo Indian Olympics had participants, spectators, and volunteers from 22 countries and 26 states.
Part of the draw of the games is the overall exciting atmosphere, steeped deep in culture and tradition. People are excited to rekindle old friendships, athletes and dancers for the competition, spectators to see their favorite athlete and who wins, vendors to show off their art, and people of all ages try to win the traditional regalia contest, as well as young women competing to be the next Miss World Eskimo Indian Olympics.
All of this energy combines to make an exciting event for people of all ages to attend and participate in. This is evidenced by organizations like Native Youth Olympics and the Arctic Winter Games that were formed after World Eskimo Indian Olympics proved to be such a success.
The games have been passed down generations and were to test people’s strength for survival. The games include the seal hop, one foot high kick, two foot high kick, Alaskan high kick, one arm reach, Indian stick pull, Eskimo stick pull, ear pull, arm pull, blanket toss, fish cutting, seal skinning, muktuk eating, and many more. There are many longstanding world records and many that will be challenged or broken by upcoming athletes. The athletes are all very encouraging of each other; sportsmanship is encouraged and recognized by all. There are no age classes, meaning people of all ages compete against each other bridging the generations.
In addition to the athletic competitions, the event also hosts Native dance groups, more than 80 tables of vendors of Native arts and exhibits, traditional regalia contests, and the Miss World Eskimo Indian Olympics pageant.
The World Eskimo Indian Olympics is truly a unique experience for everyone involved: competitors, spectators, and the volunteers that help make it a reality year after year. It is a special event that keeps people coming back for the excitement, friendships and camaraderie. For more information, visit weio.org or the World Eskimo Indian Olympics Facebook page.