With games like the seal hop, four man carry, ear pull, one-foot high kick and seal skinning, the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (WEIO) are sure to be unlike any other athletic competition you’ve ever seen. All the games in this competition are variations of traditional exercises practiced to hone the physical and mental skills necessary for the traditional livelihoods of Native Alaskan people.
Since ancient times, Native people of the polar regions have participated in games of strength, endurance, balance and agility. Along with these athletic games, dancing and storytelling provided an opportunity for friendly competition, entertainment and laughter. During these events, hosts cooked for their guests and provided lodging, while visitors brought news from surrounding villages. This is the spirit in which the WEIO was founded in 1961.
Survival for the Native people of Alaska required physical and mental discipline as well as a willingness to share, cooperate and respect the resources that made survival possible in the harsh environment. They lived off the land and waters, hunting, fishing and gathering plants for food, clothing and medicine. This lifestyle tested the limits of strength and pain, and one’s preparation to handle the unexpected.
The World Eskimo-Indian Olympics are a testament to a not-so-distant past when being adept at these games could help a village thrive. That they still continue today shows the endurance of a rich culture that has persisted resiliently through the changing tests of time.