History of the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics
The first World Eskimo Olympics was held in
Fairbanks in 1961, drawing contestants and dance teams from Barrow, Fort Yukon, Noorvik,
Nome, Tanana, and Unalakleet. It was such a success that it has become
an annual event.
From Time Immemorial
Native peoples of the
circumpolar areas of the world have always gathered in small villages to participate
in games of agility, balance, strength, and endurance . But athletic games
were not the only thing on the agenda; dancing, story telling, and other audience participation games
took place as well, providing an opportunity for friendly competition,
and entertainment. The hosts provided food and lodging, and visitors
brought news from surrounding villages and expanded opportunities for
challenge building and renewing old and new friendships. This is the
atmosphere that the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics attempts to reproduce.
In 1961, the City of Fairbanks, through the
Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, sponsored the World Eskimo Olympics as a
portion of our Golden Days Celebration. The chamber’s involvement
continued through the 1969 games. The late A. E. "Bud" Hagberg, and
now retired Frank Whaley, Wein Airways employees, who are credited as the
organizers of the World Eskimo Olympics, co-chaired the first several events,
while Bill English and late Tom Richards, Sr., pilots of the airlines, served
as emcees. This was in part because of the fear that, as Alaska was settled by
more and more people from other states and countries, with their own
unique traditions, the
games might be forgotten and not passed on and shared with others.
Four Eskimo dance groups, two Indian dance
groups, and competitions in the high-kick, blanket toss, seal skinning, added
with the Miss Eskimo Olympics Queen Contest were held during that first year.
Exhibitions on the teeter board and Eskimo "piggy back" baby buggy
show rounded out the short program. From this beginning, a diverse and complex
format encompassing three days was born.
Tundra Times Involvement
In 1970, Tundra Times, the only statewide
Native newspaper in Alaska, by mutual agreement with the Fairbanks Chamber of
Commerce, took over sponsorship of the growing event. It was viewed by their Board of Directors as a potential fund raiser to
newspaper in its mission, defined by the late Howard Rock, founder and editor,
of aiding the Alaska Native movement toward better solutions to the problems they
confronted for decades.
In 1973, the Board of Directors of Tundra
Times passed a resolution changing the name of the World Eskimo Olympics to
World Eskimo-Indian Olympics to more accurately reflect the ethnicity of the
participants. The logo for the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics is six interwoven
rings representing the six major tribes in Alaska - Aleut, Athabascan, Inupiaq,
Yup’ik, Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimpsian.
Independent Corporation Takes Over
Each year record-breaking crowds,
record-breaking performances by the athletes, an increasing number of
competitors, and larger numbers of villages sending dance groups and athletes
to the Games proved to be a challenge to the sponsoring organization. In 1976,
an independent, non-profit corporation was formed for the sole purpose of a
planning, preparing, and staging the annual event. World Eskimo-Indian
Olympics, Inc. is a 501-(c)(3) organization run by supporters and volunteers.
Gate proceeds, soft good sales, and donations
from friends and corporate partners provide revenue and services to cover
expenses, as well as the impetus needed to prepare and plan for the following year's
Women's Divisions Added
In the early 1970's, women's divisions were
established. The most recent game added to the women's division was the
knuckle hop in 1983. In 1998, the first women placed in the top three in the
ear weight competition.
Records are broken almost every year. WEIO's has helped to spawn such games as the Native
Youth Olympics, and Arctic Winter Sports. It is because of the WEIO
many countries in the circumpolar areas of the World are having annual
festivals and carnivals featuring the games and dances.
Four awards are given each year as a tribute
of contributions to the WEIO. Three of them are: