WEIO 2023 Day 4: Passing the torch to the future of the Games

WEIO 2023 Day 4: Passing the torch to the future of the Games
Published: Jul. 15, 2023 at 5:35 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTUU) - The World Eskimo Indian Olympics have been held in Fairbanks since 1961, but the games themselves have been played for hundreds of years.

The traditions are in good hands as young athletes embrace the games and honor the culture being passed down by the experienced competitors.

”The Native games are about passing them on — they’re about telling the story, telling the why,” Nick Hanson said, a longtime traditional games competitor and American Ninja Warrior contestant. “For me it is not about competing and being the best, it is about passing on the information, it’s about passing on the stories behind the games and sharing it, and sharing it with all of these young people.”

For Hanson, it’s a responsibility he’s eager to take on. He reflected on being mentored by an elder called Bob, and how he and other athletes have taken on that role as they’ve aged.

“That’s kind of become our role as we get older and we’re starting to be, try this, add this to your game, add this to your skill set, and then it’s just blown up! You see guys like Colton Paul that are absolute studs, you know ... and all these amazing athletes coming out of the woodwork. That’s is what its all about, it’s about passing the torch, it’s about moving our culture along and spreading it these young people so our culture thrives and our culture survives ... that’s the importance of these games and the importance of WEIO.”

“WEIO and the Native Games is my one way that I’m passing down tradition, personally — because I don’t know how to sew and i can’t speak my language,” Amber Vaska of Fairbanks said after winning the 2023 women’s kneel jump. “But I’m really good at the games, it’s something I love sharing and it is great to see the next generation, and they’re really eager to learn. It’s so nice that they’re eager to learn, they have the games at heart, they want to do their best.”

And the young athletes are ready to take the torch, as 18-year old’s Peter Griggs and Colton Paul are taking on the responsibilities head on.

“I am taking on a much larger role as a coach, so being able to share with the athletes that I’m bringing and some athletes I am not familiar with is just an amazing experience,” Griggs said, the 2023 greased pole walk champion.

”I want to be like the face of the modern Native Youth Olympics, because that is what gets the young kids going — if this guy thinks it’s cool, then I might as well do it too,” added Paul, the 2023 scissor broad jump, kneel jump and two-foot high kick champion. ”It feels really great to have kids look up to you. You know back home, kids are like ‘hey Colton, seen you do one-foot, two-foot, seen you on the news!’ and I am like, ‘hey, that’s good’. They just really look up to me back home and it is really nice.”

While they’re the future of the games, they’re also the present, seeing much success under the guidance of those they’re competing with — not against.

“I think the ability to share and have people listen is probably the best thing about the games — knowing that you affected someone’s competition to make it a little better,” Griggs said.