Alaska Native/Indigenous People, Entertainment

Chanda Simon – Miss WEIO 2014

Miss World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (WEIO) 2014, Chanda Simon. Courtesy photo
Miss World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (WEIO) 2014, Chanda Simon. Courtesy photo

Once upon time, a long, long time ago, I ran for Miss WEIO. While I didn’t win, it was a great experience to go through. I learned a lot about myself, Koyukon Athabascan people and how to bead. My family helped to make traditional Athabascan regalia and I learned to sing the Indian song, Good Bye My Sunny. I still look up to and admire the other ladies I ran with, like Tara Sweeney (Miss WEIO that year), Mary Sattler, Jessie Downey, Charlene Ostbloom, and more.

My niece, Chanda Simon, of Ester was the 2014 Miss WEIO. Chanda is Koyukon Athabascan and Yup’ik. She is the daughter of Chris and Letha Simon. Chris’ hometown is Huslia, and Letha’s is Bethel. Chris and I are cousins. Chanda is an accomplished young lady and is working to obtain her bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Chanda plans to obtain a master’s degree in business after she finishes her undergrad studies. After college, she plans to works in a finance department in a Native corporation and ultimately become a chief financial officer.

WEIO stands for the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics. WEIO is held in Fairbanks each year in July. Check out some photos on Facebook of the 2014 Miss WEIO Pageant.

I caught up with Chanda in Anchorage and asked her about her experience. When asked why she decided to run for Miss WEIO, she said she wanted to become more involved in the community. It was a challenge for her to become comfortable speaking in front of people. Chanda’s dad told her that it gets easier over time, and she did in fact become more comfortable.

Chanda Simon and her family traveled to Huslia in August. Left-right: Randall, Christopher, Letha, Chanda and Chanel. Courtesy photo
Chanda Simon and her family traveled to Huslia in August. Left-right: Randall, Christopher, Letha, Chanda and Chanel. Courtesy photo

Chanda was not sure how well she would do in the competition. She said, ‘What helped me overcome that is I knew I was entering with a good heart and the right expectations, and it is the experience that matters.” That is definitely the right attitude to have when competing for Miss WEIO. It is a great learning experience and you really have to become an ambassador for your culture.

Chanda Simon plays the fiddle to Eagle Island Blues during the Miss WEIO talent presentation. Chanda's brother, Randall, accompanied her on the guitar. Courtesy photo
Chanda Simon plays the fiddle to Eagle Island Blues during the Miss WEIO talent presentation. Chanda’s brother, Randall, accompanied her on the guitar. Courtesy photo

For the talent competition, Chanda sang and played the violin to the song, Eagle Island Blues. While she and her siblings have played violin in front of an audience, it was the first time she sang for in front of people. Chanda is especially grateful for her parents, siblings and her aunt Geraldine for supporting her throughout the process.

Miss WEIO serves as a role model for many Native girls across the state and to others with educational and career goals. Chanda says, “As I’m getting a little older and I’ve had more life experiences, I feel like I can help others see they are strong enough to get through hard times in life.” Chanda encourages other young people to follow their dreams and work toward their goals. She gained a lot already from her experience and encourages others to try for the Miss WEIO crown in the future.

“Get out and do it. It really is the experience that is important, not where you place. You will definitely gain so much experience in public speaking, and become even stronger in your culture.” – Chanda Simon, Miss WEIO 2014

Chanda Simon and her maternal grandfather Sammy Chimegalrea, aka Taata. Courtesy photo
Chanda Simon and her maternal grandfather Sammy Chimegalrea, aka Taata. Courtesy photo

Chanda is grateful to the community for supporting her and other young people. Many people had kind and supportive words for her, and she especially appreciated them when she was really nervous. In April 2015, Chanda will participate in the Miss Indian World pageant in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She looks forward to the new experience and representing WEIO and Alaska Native people.

“Value your education. It might not be the most exciting thing to focus on, but it is something that can never be taken away from you.” – Chanda Simon, Miss WEIO 2014

Chanda Simon is an inspiring young lady. I wish her the best in her future endeavors. Judging by Chanda’s accomplishments so far, I would say our future is bright with future leaders like her.

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