Written by Warren Jones & Photos by Zach D Roberts
Walking through the crowd at the 2013 NYO Games, I couldn’t make it 15 feet without stopping to give a hug and chat. I started to worry whether or not my photographer partner, Zach, was getting annoyed with me. He was not. There was too much to see and so many great shots to take; he was in heaven. He snapped over 1,800 shots, and it’s been difficult picking through them all for the best ones.
We made it to the final day of the competition. We were unable to cover the entire 2013 Native Youth Olympics (NYO) event. However, the portion we did cover was amazing. NYO is an athletic event for youth where they compete in the traditional games of Alaska. Competition feels like the wrong word to use here, because they work with one another. Even the competing teams help and coach one another to improve their performance. While the name “Native Youth Olympics” might leave one thinking it is only for Alaska Natives. This is not the case. The event is open to everyone and anyone is welcome to join and compete. The participants are held to academic standards and sportsman like behavior at all times. They even stay after they are done with their personal competition to cheer their mates and competition on. Cook Inlet Tribal Council surveyed 418 NYO participants and this is the information they got:
- 67% credited NYO as an incentive to stay in school
- 66% improved or kept up their grades in order to continue participation in NYO Games
- 67% indicated improved self-confidence
- 40% indicated improved leadership and self-esteem
- 35% reported improved overall health
- 77% see themselves as a role-model for future NYO athletes
- 88% learned about Alaska Native culture and values
- 10% stopped using tobacco products
- 5% stopped using alcohol
- 4% stopped using illegal substances
When we arrived at the Dena’ina center the one-foot high kick was about to begin, and in the interim the blanket toss was demonstrated.
The blanket in the photo is of walrus hides stitched together and patched with bearded seal. The people on the outside pull rhythmically and steadily, counting down: “atausiq, malġuk, piŋasut, ki!” Throwing David Thomas (pictured) high into the air where he did a back flip, spun in circles and pretended to look out on the horizon. A few other young men joined in being tossed. Every time I watch the blanket toss, I get butterflies as they are coming down, especially when they have never done it before. The landings don’t always go well, however this time they did. The blanket toss is also an event at the World Eskimo Indian Olympics (WEIO), and David is a gold medalist in the competition. The blanket toss is a unique event because of the interplay between the people pulling the blanket and the person being tossed.
We were also treated to some Inuit throat-singing, which we don’t often hear outside of Canada. It started impromptu with the announcer alone, then joined by others. Finally a beat-boxer joined them to make it complete. The sounds just feel good to hear.
After this the winners of the pilot bread competition were announced. This competition was to see who could come up with the tastiest topping for Sailor Boy crackers. It was judged by Tlingit Chef Rob Kineen.
Youth Submission (18 and Under)
Sweet Potato Surprise
- Pilot Bread Crackers
- Sweet potatoes (mashed)
- Pinch of salt
- Little tiny bit of nutmeg
- Non-fat milk
Boil sweet potatoes, then mash with non-fat milk and pinch of salt. Mix in cinnamon and nutmeg. Toast Pilot Bread in oven. Drizzle honey over Pilot Bread. Top with prepared sweet potatoes and enjoy!
Charlotte St. Clair
Take frozen whale meat and chop up in blender. Add carrots and apples and chop in blender. Add seal oil and chop in blender for a few minutes. Now, put it all on Pilot Bread and enjoy!
Randy P. Hoeldt
- Pilot Bread
- Lunch Meat
- Cooking Oil
Place Pilot Bread in frying pan with a little cooking oil or butter. Warm up, then crack egg over top of bread. Stir yolk or not. Season, then place lunch meat on top before egg is done so that it sticks. Flip and brown lunch meat. Enjoy!
One Foot High Kick
The next event was the one-foot high kick. In this event each athlete must jump off the ground with both feet simultaneously, kick the ball with one foot, land with the same kicking foot and maintain balance/control. A little while back UAA hosted a short workshop that demonstrated some of the games and invited participants to try it out. It was fun to watch, and these events are so much more difficult to do than they look, and it doesn’t look easy. The floor was packed with competitors in the initial stage, slowly thinning out as the winners began to emerge. The end of the competition things got heated up as people began to get excited about the few people left.
On the boys side, Stuart Towaruk from Unalakleet won, tying the state record of 114”. Stuart attempted 115” and was unable to do it. Watching this one, Stuart was very calm. He had a slow small-stepped approach, and exploded upward for the kick. For those who don’t do quick math: 114” is 9’6”. The world record is 9’8” held by Jesse Frankson and Tim Fields. That world record story is amazing, check it out. Stuart did an awesome job, and you could tell he really wanted it. After failing the 115” kick Stuart was very emotional that he was unable to make the final kick, but was consoled by no less than 50 hugs.
This is an event that I have done in the past (not in competition, just at school). I can tell you that this event is incredibly hard. This is a combination of both physical, and (I think more importantly) mental strength. The women do it differently than the men: the women have open palms and the men are on their first knuckle. The girls do it in the upper push-up position. For the men, it is in the lower push-up position. They hop across the floor on hands (or knuckles) and toes only. This description does not do it justice.
We sat on the sidelines and watched one girl in particular, who pushed herself so hard I could see her body begin to fail her. The look on her face was agony as she pushed herself to keep on going. I could see her legs begin to fail her and she pushed until she collapsed in tears. She tried to stand up and failed. She lay there for a while with her friends, family and coaches huddled around her. She recovered enough to crawl to the sidelines where she sat for the next 20 minutes recovering.
The boys started their competition; you could the sound of their knuckles banging on the wood as they hopped across the floorboards. We stayed for all the girls, and the beginning of the men, but unfortunately life called and said we had to go. We are looking forward to full coverage of the games next year.