Skill and tradition honored at 60th anniversary World Eskimo-Indian Olympics

Eden Hopson of Utqiaġvik prepares to ascend during the blanket toss finals at the 2021 World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in Fairbanks. Hopson won second place female in Scissor Broad Jump, first place female in Kneel Jump, first place female in One Hand Reach, third place female in Alaskan High Kick, second place female in Two Foot High Kick, third place female in Bench Reach, and first place female in One Foot High Kick. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

The 2021 World Eskimo-Indian Olympics felt nostalgic for many who attended last week. The games were held at the Big Dipper Ice Arena in Fairbanks, which was a throwback to earlier years, and it was also the 60th anniversary of the event.

“I just keep telling myself it’s just another competition,” said Ezra Elisoff, “but on the inside, I’m really ecstatic and excited, because there’s usually a lot of nice faces around.”

Ezra Elisoff of Juneau takes his turn during the Two Foot High Kick finals at the 2021 World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in Fairbanks. Elisoff won third place male for the Two Foot High Kick, second place male in One Foot High Kick, third place male Knuckle Hop, second place male in Scissor Broad Jump, and first place male in Indian Stick Pull. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Elisoff, 17, who is Tlingit and attends Thunder Mountain High School in Juneau, won third place male for the Two Foot High Kick, second place male in One Foot High Kick, third place male Knuckle Hop, second place male in Scissor Broad Jump and first place male in Indian Stick Pull.

The games played at WEIO are a test of the body and spirit, a way to teach preparedness needed for survival in northern communities, according to the pamphlet that’s handed out at the event.

“The Olympics are more of a western-style sport, so it’s like everyone has their own technique that they don’t really share,” said Elisoff. “The World Eskimo-Indian Olympics  it’s an Indigenous sport  and we always think of it as we’re fellow hunters trying to help each other. So, we always give each other advice, because realistically, back when you were hunting with other people, you’d wanna help build them up, because you don’t want them to go home and leave their families hungry.”

Bernard Clark of Wasilla (left) and Kyle Worl of Juneau (right) chat during the Two Foot High Kick competition at the 2021 World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in Fairbanks. Worl won first place and Clark won second place male for the Two Foot High Kick. They each also placed in the top three for many other competitions. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

For public health safety, many of the events were outside.

But in the evenings, events took place inside the arena with some COVID-19 precautions.

Fans from around Alaska — and visitors from as far as Italy and India —cheered for the competitors, as newly-acquired archival footage from the first WEIO in 1961 played in the background on the big screen. Due to the coronavirus, 2020 was the only year WEIO was canceled since the 1961 games.

Aizah Sullivan, 24, who is Absentee Shawnee, Muscogee Creek of Oklahoma, and Athabascan from Tanana, won first place in the Ear Pull competition.

“Ear Pull is to signify enduring frostbite,” she said. “It’s definitely a sign of self strength and perseverance.”

Aizah Sullivan of Fairbanks (left) and Nicole Johnson of Nome (right) demonstrate the Ear Pull. Sullivan won first place female for the Ear Pull competition at the 2021 World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in Fairbanks. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Sullivan said she felt a little nervous before the competition.

But, she added, “It’s a good nervous, because you know they expect you to be your best.”

“It’s super cool to be able to just compete with someone who’s just been there along their journey for so long… We’re just here to keep our traditions going and pass them down to our young ones and stuff. It’s great. It’s super great.”

A full list of 2021 competition results is available on the WEIO website.


Marjorie Tahbone of Nome ascends during the blanket toss finals at the 2021 World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in Fairbanks. Tahbone won first place female in the Blanket Toss competition, first place female in Indian Stick Pull, first place in Eskimo Fur Regalia, second place in Fish Cutting, and second place in Seal Skinning. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)
Amber Vaska of Fairbanks takes her turn during the Two Foot High Kick finals at the 2021 World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in Fairbanks. Vaska won first place female for the Two Foot High Kick and second place female for One Foot High Kick. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)
The winners for the Indian style cloth regalia competition at the 2021 World Eskimo-Indian Olympics were Lisa McNulty of North Pole (first place), Rigel Denny of Juneau (second place), and Gina Kalloch of Fairbanks (third place). Pictured modeling the regalia are Rigel Denny (left), McNulty’s daughter Kalissa (center), and Amber Taggart-Applebee (right). (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)
Cingarkaq Peter-Raboff won third place for the Eskimo style cloth competition at the 2021 World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in Fairbanks. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)
Allison Akootchook Warden, also known as AKU-MATU, performs a song at the 2021 World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in Fairbanks. Warden was also the emcee Thursday night. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)
Sophie Nothstine (left) and Geneva Wright (right) pose for a photo during the 2021 World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in Fairbanks. Nothstine said she was keeping the seal oil lamp lit for the games. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)
Jane Snyder (center) watches Conrad Olin finish maktak during the maktak eating competition at the 2021 World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in Fairbanks. Walter Lord, Jr. is in the background. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)
Kaliksuna Autumn Madison (left) was named 2021 Miss World Eskimo-Indian Olympics on Friday. Other finalists are Ashley Luke of Healy Lake (center left), Lucy Gordon of Utqiaġvik (center right) and Laura Ekada of Nulato (right). (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

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