Sunday, April 26, 2009

Native Youth Olympic Games: Carrying on a Cultural Tradition

Native Alaskan youth are in trouble, figuratively and literally, as graduation rates plummet and statistics involving alcolol and drug use rise. Many kids, from remote villages far, far from Anchorage, are only following in the footsteps of their own disenchanted elders.

Many Native Alaskan-owned corporations are making great strides in their methods to combat the above issues. One of these, and perhaps the most successful, is through the Native Youth Olympic Games, held each April in Anchorage. Culture, Courtesy, and Cooperation, three values held in high esteem, and practiced as much as the physical events.

As author of the Games Guide this year, I was privy to the inside activities that go on around the state in preparation for these tests of skill and concentration. Designed to mimic the play of villagers in the North, the events showcase skills necessary for young men (and now women) to survive a hunting season in such areas as the Arctic, where knowing the stealthy approach of a seal hunter could mean food or starvation.

Events such as the Seal Hop, where competitors hop across a hard floor in the push-up position, using only their knuckles and toes for support (kills me to watch), One-Foot High Kick, and Wrist Carry all were inititally designed to provide both entertainment and skill-building for young Native men.

Any Alaska student grades 1-12 can participate, and yesterday's competition was the best of the best in high school grades. We had a blast mingling with families and event organizers, and felt as if we truly were welcomed into the fold of Alaska Native tradition.

Time after time we found our mouths agape as kids leaped, hopped, and shimmied their way around the floor of the hall. Incredible. And worthwhile.

What struck us the most was witnessing the incredible show of sportsmanship. No whining about judging errors, no bravado, nothing but respect and admiration for each other. Hugs and high-fives came from competitors and judges; had it not been for the officials' bright orange shirts, it would be hard to distinguish between the two.

The professional athletes down in the Lower 48 could learn a lesson or two from these kids.

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