World Eskimo-Indian Olympics

An athlete participates in the one-hand reach at the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics.
Courtesy World Eskimo-Indian Olympics

By Serine Reeves


The World Eskimo-Indian Olympics have been held in Fairbanks every year since 1961, drawing contestants from many surrounding villages. Gathering to play games and celebrate with storytelling, dancing and sharing of food is an ancient tradition of Native people of the circumpolar north that lives on today through the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics.

The games were designed to hone and test skills required to survive in the Arctic. The four-man carry tests the strength required to haul game, wood, or ice for long distances. The ear pull tests the endurance required to tolerate frostbite pain. The Indian stick pull tests the grip required to grab a fish by the tail, and the greased pole walk tests the balance required for crossing creeks on slippery logs. There are many other games that test strength, agility, and endurance. Contests include fish cutting and seal skinning.

Some games are just for fun and celebration. The nalukataq, commonly known as the blanket toss, was a form of celebrating after a successful whaling season. It requires 40-50 volunteers gathered around a walrus hide or bearded seal skin blanket who coordinate to toss a participant in the center of the blanket as high as 30 feet in the air. There is also a muktuk (whale blubber) eating contest! Participants use traditional ulu knives to cut and consume the traditional delicacy. The World Eskimo-Indian Olympics is a great opportunity to witness traditional Native culture, athletic games, dance, and storytelling. If you’re in Fairbanks this July, don’t miss it!


World Eskimo-Indian Olympics
Fairbanks, Alaska
Carlson Center
July 17–20, 2019
www.weio.org

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