Entertainment

World Eskimo Indian Olympics: The Games, The Games

Bernice Joseph at WEIO
The late Bernice Joseph was a winner of the Race of the Torch-Women in 1993. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

The World Eskimo Indian Olympics (WEIO) celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011 in Fairbanks, Alaska. Athletes from around the state and spectators from around the world were there. I think it was the group member from Pamyua, Phillip Blanchett, who coined the words, “The Games, The Games”. The Pamyua group helped to create the documentary, Games of the North that year. What do the Native Games mean? You can learn more about it and watch it online.

Athletes have been training for months and years. In the Games of the North documentary, Big Bob Aiken says, “These aren’t just games, they are survival skills.” Each game has a story of survival linked to them, and have a lesson that can be translated today. Runners of all ages prepare for the Torch Run at WEIO.

Moses Wassillie, an Alaska Native artist, at the 2007 WEIO
Moses Wassillie, an Alaska Native artist, at the 2007 WEIO

Artists from around the state and nation have been sewing, beading and crafting for months in preparation to have a booth at WEIO. Many people save up “WEIO money” to buy arts, crafts, entry, and food.

This year, WEIO is gathering all of the former Miss WEIO’s for a reunion. The Fairbanks Daily Newsminer did a story on them, “Miss WEIO queens recall 50 years of pageant change, cultural growth.” Miss WEIO contestants have worked throughout the year practicing songs, dances, sewing regalia and public speaking.

Miss WEIO contestants have won regional pageant competitions, like Miss Top of the World or Miss Nuchalawoya. Some Miss WEIO winners have gone to the national stage of Miss Indian World and won. The 2010 Miss WEIO, Marjorie Tahbone, became the 2011 Miss Indian World. What an inspiring story for a young lady who started out as Miss Arctic Circle!

2006 Miss WEIO with 2007 contestants
The 2006 Miss WEIO and the 2007 contestants speak on KNBA

WEIO also has a competition of Native regalia. Years ago, I won a competition for ‘Best Traditional Dress’ for with my Athabascan regalia. My family and friends worked together for months to put it together. One of my cousins has been sewing traditional Athabascan regalia for her little girl in preparation to enter her into the Native baby regalia competition.

A dance group performs at WEIO in 1993. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
A dance group performs at WEIO in 1993. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Dance groups from around Alaska also travel to WEIO to perform traditional Native dances and songs. You learn about different Native cultures and traditions from around Alaska. The songs are sung in Native languages.

WEIO is a great time to visit with friends and family. WEIO is sometimes the only place to see some friends you haven’t seen in years. Good luck to all of the athletes, artists, singers, dancers and more! It is a place where being Native is revered and celebrated. Happy WEIO and enjoy “The Games, The Games”!

A dance group performs at WEIO in 1993. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
A dance group performs at WEIO in 1993. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Entertainment

Growing Up Native: Sharing Culture

Singing at WEIO
Singing at WEIO

I’m fortunate that I grew up in a home where it was okay to be Native (aka Alaska Native, Athabascan, American Indian). My mother taught us about our Koyukon Athabascan culture. My grandmother shared stories. My dad taught us how to hunt, fish and take care of dogs. We were encouraged to share our culture with others.

I once competed to be Miss World Eskimo Indian Olympics (WEIO). That spring and summer, I learned a Koyukon Athabascan song, called “Good Bye My Sonny”. My family and friends of the family sewed traditional Athabascan regalia, including a dress, boots, gloves, belt and jewelry. We all came together to learn more about what it meant to be Athabascan. I didn’t win that year, but I had the opportunity to share what it meant to be Koyukon Athabascan. I did win an award for the best traditional dress.

My mother, Eleanor Yatlin, and I
My mother, Eleanor Yatlin, and I

Participating in WEIO as an athlete, dancer, artist, ambassador or even in the audience is a great learning experience. WEIO will celebrate its 50th Anniversary on July 20-23, 2011 in Fairbanks, Alaska. Many of my friends and family will go to the interior for this momentous celebration. I hope to make it up also.

The experience of running for Miss WEIO prepared me for becoming Miss Indian TU (University of Tulsa). Serving as a cultural ambassador allowed me to learn even more about what it means to be Koyukon Athabascan and Alaska Native. I learned how to properly introduce myself. People know you by whose family you belong to. Alaska Native people ask me where I am from and who I’m related to.

An Alaska Native Introduction
I’m Angela Yatlin Gonzalez, originally from Huslia, Alaska. My Koyukon Athabascan name is Kla’dah Dalthna’. My parents are Al and Eleanor Yatlin.

My grandmothers, Lydia Simon and Alda Frank
My grandmothers, Lydia Simon and Alda Frank

My grandparents on my mother’s side were the late Edwin and Lydia Simon. My grandparents on my father’s side were the late George Frank and Minnie Yatlin, and Alda Frank (my grandfather’s second wife who currently lives in Galena, Alaska).

I surrounded myself with people who appreciated my unique cultural background. I hear stories of people who experienced racism. I experienced some too, and try to educate people when I can. Some people may look at me and see a stereotype, but there are a lot of good things out there too. Alaska Natives, like athlete Callan Chythlook-Sifsof, are breaking new ground and accomplishing great things. Learn more about some exemplary Alaska Natives in a book, Growing Up Native in Alaska by A J McClanahan.

Alaska Native people like to share their culture and enjoy reconnecting with each other to share food, songs and dance. I strive to learn about the many other cultures. To that end, I encourage you to share something about yourself in the comments below. Who are you? Whose family do you come from?

Anaa basee’ (Thank you) for allowing me to share a little bit about my culture!