Wednesday morning I walked outside Moore Hall at UAF and looked up to a solar halo festival that evolved with with the cloud formations.
Twas a lovely morning and recreationalists seized the opportunity to play on the Chena River.
I walked a couple miles to Carlson Center to watch the first day of WEIO events.
The day before I checked out the center and there was a potlock in the parking lot. I didn't bring any food and was pretty full of protein bars and fruit, so didn't taste any of the foods, but I did get a glance at what was served. Nothing out of the ordinary... burgers, chicken, salad, casseroles, cake. I was hoping to see some moose or whale, but then again to haul those goods down from the far North would be a challenge and to buy those ingredients in town are very pricy. Stick with what's available in the city I guess. Village food supplies are becomming more Westernized anyway, which is no good in my opinion. The last village I worked in had a shop loaded with soda, candy, alcohol and cigarettes. No wonder diabetes, obesity and alcoholism are prevalent in many villages in North America. My advice - brothers and sisters keep your ties to the Earth and maintain tradition. Pass on the white man's temptations. I don't blame them... the climate/environment is changing in the Arctic too. Gotta do what you gotta do just to survive. Despite the lack of authenticity of native cuisine the potlock brought tribal members from all over the world together and kicked off the olympic celebrations.
Inside the Carlson Center were gifts from the North.
I should have wore my talon necklace I made while in the bush of Kodiak, it would have fit right in.
Now it begins...
There are six main competing tribal groups that make up the six-ringed WEIO Olympic insignia found on the WEIO website. Each group has it's own dance group. To start the games they marched out with their traditional wear and drums.
Then the Miss Eskimos walk out.
I've always dreamt that I will meet my soulmate meandering down a river in her fur and moccassins in the wild somewhere... I'll keep dreaming. You can see that they stand with pride.
The dance of the tribes.
Awards for the day's earlier Olympic events.
Then a showing of the one-hand reach game. One thing I noticed is that each participant acknowledges the hanging ball prior to playing. This reminds me of how tradional Muay Thai boxers do a dance to ask for assistance from the ancestoral spirits and helpers prior to fighting. How often do you see a quarterback in the NFL give thanks and pray to the ball?
The one-hand reach is performed by touching a dangling ball with one hand and the other hand touching the ground and both legs/feet suspended.
Long arms are key in winning this game.
Around 9 PM a giant cooler plops on the floor.
Salmon are laid out on a map for the fish cutting competition.
Ulus are used to cut the fish and they have to be cut a certain way that allows for efficient hang-drying. Communities in the North rely upon dried and preserved summer goods to make it through a winter.
Here's a boy using a modern fish knife to compete.
The Ulu ('Woman's Knife') beholder wins.
The WEIO games are demonstations of the physical skills needed to hunt and survive in the Arctic. It was a great cultural experience and I was amazed how each competor hugged and supported the other challengers. The only real reward for their talents was a realization of community and personal commitment to maintain traditional beliefs. It was not a display of 'village versus village', it was a demonstation of 'One Arctic Village'. I thank all for their energy in making the 2011 WEIO a learning experience.
With my heart warmed and gifts packed in my backpack I journey back to Toolik the next morning to share what I saw.