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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.

City Beginnings

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 advance the 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 celebration.

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 that 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: 

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A. E. "Bud" Hagberg Memorial Sportsmanship Athletic Award - chosen by the athletes among themselves - this award is presented to the outstanding sportsperson exemplifying the spirit of good sportsmanship; 

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Howard Rock Memorial Outstanding Athlete Award is another award to the best athlete chosen from among the athletes themselves.

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Frank Whaley Award Presentation for Outstanding Contributions is presented to the one individual or corporation who has demonstrated exemplary contributions of time, money and effort on an annual basis.

"Survival for the Native people of Alaska has been the name of the games for as long as our elders can recollect. When listening to them tell of their early life, it sometimes seems inconceivable they managed at all. These stories constantly reiterate the need to be disciplined physically as well as mentally, to share, cooperate, and to hold a reverence for the source which makes it possible to survive in an environment which is severe in every sense of the word. These people lived off what nature provided. They hunted, fished, and gathered plants for food, clothing, and medicinal purposes. In all of these instances they had to be strong and agile, and able to endure past normal limits of strength and pain. In winter or summer, one had to prepare to be tested at any moment, and to fail could easily be the difference between life and death."

 

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