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Native Pathways to Education
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WORLD ESKIMO-INDIAN OLYMPICS - A HISTORY
http://www.weio.org

 

From time immemorial, Native people of the Arctic have gathered in small villages to participate in games of strength, endurance, agility, and concentration. Along with competitive activities requiring physical prowess; dancing, story-telling and cultural games for entertainment were also integral parts of these informal events. These gatherings provided an opportunity for friendly competition as well as entertainment as the hosts supplied food and lodging while the visitors brought news from surrounding villages. Friendships were built and renewed.

This is the historical precedent of the WEIO. The games are opportunities for the elders to pass on their knowledge to the youth. These games teach balance, cooperation, strength, agility, concentration, endurance, and speed; qualities often important to survival in a traditional life style. Although some games have two people opposing each other, they do not encourage competition as much as encourage the youth to meet their own goals.

WEIO were created from an idea by Frank Whaley, a Wien pilot, whose plane had a mid-winter break down in Point Hope in the 50's. During his stay, Whaley watched the traditional games, storytelling, dancing, and feasting which took place during the Christmas season. He told Sam Hopson, a co-worker for Wien, some other pilot friends, Bud Hagberg, Bill English, and Tom Richardson stories about those months at Point Hope. Frank realized that this "changeless empire" (Lund, 1986) could not remain untouched much longer. He and the others were concerned about the encroachment and pressure on the Inupiat culture by the non-natives. They convinced Wien Airlines and the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce to help sponsor the WEIO games in conjunction with the "Golden Days" celebration. The first games were held on the banks of the Chena River in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1961. At that time, they were known as World Eskimo Olympics drawing contestants from Barrow, Unalakleet, Tanana, Fort Yukon, Noorvik, and Nome. In 1973, the Tundra Times board of Directors, which assumed sponsorship of the Olympics in 1970, changed the name of the World Eskimo Olympics to the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics. Today, they are an integral part of the movement to help preserve Native Culture and history in Alaska. The 1995 WEIO was held in mid-July, but in other years it occurred in early August.

 

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Last modified August 14, 2006