Like the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, Wednesday night’s opening ceremony was a celebration of culture.
The sound of Native drumming filled the Carlson Center while dancers took center stage.
“It’s a time to meet new people and see old friends and be able to relax and still be uplifted by the energy of the drummers and dancers and the athletes that participate,” said Marjorie Tahbone, a competitor from Nome.
“It’s very energizing,” her sister Vanessa agreed. “It’s like, even though we’re busy it’s giving us the strength for the rest of the year and giving us something to look forward to next year.”
More than 600 athletes, performers and artists from around Alaska and the circumpolar north are in Fairbanks for the four days of events.
Athletes said what makes WEIO unique is not only the level of competition but of sportsmanship as well.
“Your friends will help each other out,” said James Wardlow, a competitor from Anchorage. “You’re not just going head-to-head thinking, ‘I’m better than you.’ We all work together to get to our own personal best.”
With the lighting of the seal oil lamp, the games could officially begin.
It was a time for competitors to show their best and be with friends who are more like family.
“It’s awesome. I like how warm it feels when you come here,” Wardlow said.
Tahbone agreed the opening ceremony set the tone for the rest of the week.
“You can totally see all the cultural values that we’re taught in this area where we have a community spirit, sportsmanship and camaraderie and working together so that we can get better as a people and as an individual. So it just means so much love for me,” she smiled.
It’s a love of the games and their heritage that keeps them coming back to compete.