Alaska Public Media multimedia journalist Jeff Chen photographed the 2021 World Eskimo-Indian Olympics on Thursday and Friday evening in Fairbanks.
Here’s a snapshot.
The 2021 World Eskimo-Indian Olympics was nostalgic for many who attended last week. The games were held at the Big Dipper Ice Arena in Fairbanks, which was a throwback to earlier years, and it was also the 60th anniversary of the event.
“I just keep telling myself it’s just another competition,” said Ezra Elisoff. “But on the inside, I’m really ecstatic and excited, because there’s usually a lot of nice faces around.”
Elisoff, 17, who is Tlingit, attends Thunder Mountain High School in Juneau. In the men’s division he won first place in Indian Stick Pull, second place in Scissor Broad Jump and third place for both Two Foot High Kick and Knuckle Hop.
The games played at WEIO are a test of the body and spirit, a way to teach the preparedness needed for survival in northern communities, according to the pamphlet handed out at the event.
“The Olympics are more of a western-style sport, so it’s like everyone has their own technique that they don’t really share,” said Elisoff. “The World Eskimo-Indian Olympics — it’s an Indigenous sport — and we always think of it as we’re fellow hunters trying to help each other. So, we always give each other advice, because realistically, back when you were hunting with other people, you’d wanna help build them up, because you don’t want them to go home and leave their families hungry.”
For public health safety, many of this year’s events were outside. But in the evenings, events took place inside the arena with some COVID-19 precautions.
Fans from around Alaska — and visitors from as far as Italy and India — cheered for the competitors as newly-acquired archival footage from the first WEIO in 1961 played in the background on a big screen. As a consequence of COVID-19, last year was the first cancellation in the games’ 60-year history.
Aizah Sullivan, 24, who is Absentee Shawnee, Muscogee Creek of Oklahoma, and Athabascan from Tanana, won first place in the Ear Pull competition.
“Ear Pull is to signify enduring frostbite,” she said. “It’s definitely a sign of self strength and perseverance.”
Sullivan said she felt a little nervous before the competition.
But, she added, “it’s a good nervous, because you know they expect you to be your best.”
“It’s super cool to be able to just compete with someone who’s just been there along their journey for so long,” she said. “We’re just here to keep our traditions going, and pass them down to our young ones and stuff. It’s great. It’s super great.”