The World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (WEIO) were formed over fifty years ago to spread knowledge and awareness of traditional skills and games to visitors and residents of Alaska. Each summer, the top athletes from the circumpolar north (including teams from Greenland and Russia) gather in Fairbanks to compete in tests of strength, endurance, balance, and tolerance for pain. World Eskimo-Indian Olympics usually runs from July 16th-19th at the Carlson Center.
The games are based on skills prized by Native cultures for thousands of years. The Four Man Carry challenges a single man to carry four people at once for as long as possible, which simulates the heavy packs required to haul meat back to camp after a successful game hunt. The Eskimo Stick Pull replicates the difficulty of pulling a seal out of water by requiring athletes to pull a stick away from their competitor.
The Opening Ceremonies kick off the competitions and welcome all athletes, families, and visitors. Follow along in your program to understand the cultural significance of each event, or listen closely to the emcee.
The accessibility of WEIO athletes is part of what makes the games such a great experience for spectators. There is no age limit to compete at WEIO, though most athletes are in their late teens or early twenties. Feel free to approach them with questions or congratulations as they walk off the floor, or if you see them hanging around the arena at any point.
WEIO doubles as a cultural celebration with traditional dances and long-standing rituals like the blanket toss (using a blanket made from the hides of 3-4 walrus). The annual Miss WEIO pageant brings young women from across the state to compete in cultural skills and communication.
Eighty vendors exhibit at an annual craft bazaar, which is a great place to hunt for souvenirs. You’ll find beaded moccasins, screen-printed sweatshirts, fur hats, and materials like ivory and sealskin that can only legally be used by Native artists. Ask permission before handling an item and take time to inquire about the method and meaning of the artist’s work.
Elders are granted the highest respect in Native culture and have front row seats at all events. Don’t block their view of the arena, if you can help it. Also, it’s best to politely request permission if you’d like to take a photo of an individual in the crowd. Group photos or shots of a staged event are fine.
Lastly, don’t forget to sample the frybread.
WEIO started as a component of Golden Days, a city-wide celebration of Fairbanks’ history, and has since spun off to be it’s own nonprofit. It does, however, still coincide with Golden Days, making it easy for visitors to attend both while in town.
Call WEIO at (907)452-6646. Admission is free during the day.
*Photos taken by Ronn Murray