Sealaska Heritage Institute
Nearly a hundred athletes from Alaska and Canada are expected to compete in the 2019 Traditional Games in Juneau next month, marking the first time Southeast Alaska has hosted a statewide Indigenous sports event.
Local athletes will vie to qualify for Team Juneau to compete in the statewide Native Youth Olympics Games Alaska (NYO), scheduled April 25-27 in Anchorage. The games are based on ancient hunting and survival skills that allowed Indigenous people to survive and thrive in the harsh conditions of Alaska and across the Arctic.
Athletes from Hoonah, Ketchikan, Metlakatla, Bethel, Barrow, Whitehorse, and Northern Arizona University also will compete in Juneau.
The 2019 Traditional Games are scheduled from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., March 16-17, at Thunder Mountain High School. The competition is open to everyone—Native and non-Native—age 11 and older. Spectators are invited and appreciated.
Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) and other sponsors first helped to organize a team in Juneau in 2017. In 2018, the city was represented at the Native Youth Olympics Games Alaska for the first time in almost 30 years. Since then, the number of Juneau students participating in the NYO has nearly doubled. An estimated 100 athletes are expected to compete in Juneau’s traditional games—60 from Juneau and 40 from outside the city—compared to 54 athletes last year.
In addition, students from all three of Juneau’s high schools and both middle schools will participate. In the past two years, more than 2,000 students have received instruction through the NYO program, which offers practices every week during the school year in multiple locations.
Prior to 2017, the Native Youth Olympics Games Alaska program was active in only four elementary schools in Juneau, said Coach Kyle Ḵaayák’w Worl, a veteran of the NYO games who has brought home many medals.
“The Juneau program was successful last year partly because we foster an atmosphere of support and acceptance. Historically, people had to work together and support each other, and that spirit is very much a part of the games and something I try to instill in the athletes,” said Worl, noting that athlete evaluations last year showed students’ cited the supportive community as one of the main reasons they participated.
This is the first time Juneau’s traditional games has drawn teams from outside the city. The athletes coming from outside will compete in the games but hold their qualifying events at another time, Worl said.
Ten athletes from the 2018 Traditional Games qualified to compete at state, where the athletes set new personal records and teammate Derrick Roberts took third place in the Eskimo Stick Pull.
In December, Team Juneau went on to compete at the Yukon Arctic Sports Championship in Whitehorse, Canada. They took home 13 medals and both the men’s and women’s 10th-12th grades sportsmanship awards.
Athletes will compete in ten events, including the Scissor Broad Jump, Kneel Jump, Wrist Carry, One Foot High Kick and Dene Stick Pull on Saturday, March 16, and the Inuit Stick Pull, Two Foot High Kick, One Hand Reach, Alaska High Kick and the Seal Hop on Sunday, March 17. Coaches will include Worl and Kaytlynne Lewis.
The opening ceremony will feature music by DJ Celeste Worl. Tlingit rapper Arias Hoyle will perform his song Ix̱six̱án, Ax̱ Ḵwáan on Saturday morning and debut a new music video at the NYO Celebration, scheduled the evening of March 16 at the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. The dance group Woosh.ji.een will perform Sunday morning.
About Native Youth Olympics
The Native Youth Olympics is a statewide sport that includes 10 different events or games to test skills of strength, agility, balance, endurance and focus. These games are based on hunting and survival skills of the Indigenous people of Alaska and across the Arctic going back hundreds of years.
Each year, teams of high school and middle school athletes from across the state travel to Anchorage to take part in the Sr. Native Youth Olympics. More than 500 athletes from more than 100 communities, split into male and female divisions, compete for 1st-5th place medals in the 10 events.
Athletes strive to perform at their personal best while helping and supporting their fellow competitors, no matter what team. This is the spirit of the games, to work together toward common goals and learn from the skills and values that allowed Alaska Native people to survive and thrive in some of the harshest conditions.
Native Youth Olympics is produced by Cook Inlet Tribal Council.
The Traditional Games and Juneau’s NYO team are a community collaboration made possible by the following major sponsors: Sealaska Heritage, Sealaska, University of Alaska Southeast, and Central Council of Tlingit and Haida. Additional sponsors include SEARHC, McGivney’s Sports Bar and Grill, Trickster Company, Juneau Community Council Tlingit & Haida, Alaska Club, Alaska Native Sisterhood, and Alaska Native Brotherhood. Partners include the Juneau School District, Indian Studies Program, Goldbelt Heritage, Zach Gordon Youth Center BAM (After-School Activities) program, and UAS Wooch Een Club.
Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history, and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee, and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.