Jul 21, 2011

Tsimshian: 50th World Eskimo-Indian Olympics Begins


Below is an article published by Fairbanks Daily News-Miner 


The shutter of Carol Rovetta’s camera was working overtime on Wednesday [13 July 2011] in the Carlson Center [Fairbanks, Alaska].

 “Oh, this is fascinating!” the banking and real estate retiree said Thursday [14 July 2011] night during a break from photographing the opening ceremonies of the five-day celebration of Native culture and games.

A trip to Savoonga six years ago introduced Rovetta and her husband, Ron, to WEIO [ World Eskimo-Indian Olympics].

In Savoonga, they met some youths who were participating in WEIO and other youths there who gave them demonstrations of some of the WEIO games.

“From that point on, we were just smitten,” Carol Rovetta said.

The games are based on survival skills of the Arctic regions of the planet. The six interwoven rings of the WEIO logo represent the Eskimo, Aleut, Tsimshian, Tlingit, Haida and Athabascan peoples of Alaska[…]

 “We are here for the whole thing,” Carol Rovetta said. “We’ve been here since 10 o’clock this morning. We will be here every day; we just want to see every bit of it.”

Ninety-year-old Poldine Carlo has been to all but two WEIOs during its history.

In past years, the Fairbanks resident and native of Nulato served as the keeper of the seal oil lamp, which is lit by the male and female winners of the Race of the Torch, a 5-kilometer run that takes place the afternoon of the opening day. The lighting of the lamp signifies the beginning of WEIO.

[…] “I think it’s wonderful when all of the Native people get together each year,” Carlo said. “This year, it’s missing some people my age. It’s kind of sad in a way when you think of that, but on the other hand, you’re happy, too, for the new people.”

“It’s a good thing for Fairbanks ... (it’s good for) everybody, not only Native people,” the mother of eight said of WEIO.

Ray Garis-Shoemaker is a WEIO newcomer in the event’s 50th year. The 17-year-old West Valley High School senior is competing this week in a few events, including the four-man carry and ear pull.

“I feel really good about it,” said Garis-Shoemaker, a 6-foot-4, 282-pound wrestler and a two-way football lineman for West Valley. “It’s kind of exciting for me. I’m committing myself to actually saying that I’m Native.”

The four-man carry is a game of strength and endurance, based on a hunter carrying a seal, moose or caribou for a long distance following a successful hunt. The ear pull is a tug-of-war of ears and tests a competitor’s ability to endure pain, a trait necessary to survive the harsh elements of the north.

While Garis-Shoemaker is experiencing WEIO for the first time, Reggie Joule is participating in it for the 40th time.

Joule, a state legislator from Kotzebue and 2010 inductee into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame, has won an unprecedented 10 gold medals in the blanket toss, which is based on an activity that celebrates a successful whaling hunt.

Joule has been an inspiration to athletes past and present in WEIO, but he has been inspired by others in the annual event.

“When I came in 1971, I had no clue who I was. I had no idea about being an Alaska Native,” Joule, 59, recalled.

“This gave me a foothold for the rest of my life.”

Joule cited different people who helped him in WEIO, and in life, such as Poldine Carlo.

“Those people who were here, they took me into their wing,” Joule said. “They saw something, I have no clue what they were looking at, looking for but they took me under their wing and they took care of me.”

Col. Ron Johnson, the garrision commander of Fort Wainwright and among a few local dignitaries who provided speeches for the opening ceremonies, touched on the cultural and teamwork aspects that have been demonstrated by generations of WEIO participants.

“The fact that this is the 50th anniversary of these games is a testament to the Native peoples’ commitment to those values and it sets a perfect example for all of us,” Johnson said in his speech.

Among the others who spoke were Fairbanks Mayor Jerry Cleworth, North Pole Mayor Doug Isaacson and Jeff Jacobson, who was representing Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins.

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