Nome Native Youth Olympics team holds virtual event to promote traditional games

During an April NYO competition in Nome, local student Elden Cross participates in the two-foot high kick, in which athletes aim to touch with their feet a sealskin beanbag at increasing heights. In this photo series, Cross reaches a height of about eight feet. (Katie Kazmierski/KNOM)

Last week, the Nome Native Youth Olympics team hosted a virtual event to garner more interest region-wide in traditional games and to inspire kids to start practicing traditional games on their own.

During the Kawerak-hosted hour-long event, Vanessa Tahbone shared background information about each of the events while Nome athletes gave demonstrations.

“This game is used to strengthen leg muscles for jumping from ice floe to ice floe,” Tahbone said, explaining the traditional relevance of the kneel jump. “It’s for when you’re out hunting, and you need to get up and move fast.”

In addition to the kneel jump, the one-foot and two-foot high kicks serve a traditional purpose as “signaling kicks” for whaling communities to communicate, as Tahbone described for viewers.

“There’d be someone out on a tall lookout or a high point in the community, and they would use this to signal to the community that the crew was successful,” Tahbone said. “They would perform the one-foot high kick telling the community that they needed to get ready to help take care of and put away the food that was successfully hunted in the ocean.”

Other events, like the one-handed reach, require a considerable amount of athleticism and strength. Yet, Tahbone says of the young athletes, “they make it look easy – it’s not.”

The virtual event showcased eight out of the ten traditional events that encompass the Nome Native Youth Olympic Games.

Tahbone stressed the group’s desire to inspire other youth in the region to get involved with NYO. With the help of Kawerak, they will be sending out at-home kits for children and families to begin practicing on their own.

“The kit includes a ball, string, measuring tape, a hook to hang your ball from, and you’ll also have a log that tells you the starting heights for each event and then how you improve over time,” Tahbone said.

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