The Native Youth Olympics aren’t just about athletes connecting to their culture through sports; some kids use music to get back to their roots.


On Friday, the Young Native Fiddlers took the stage at the UAA Alaska Airlines Center, their first time performing at NYO.


“It’s a really cool experience,” said Leniel Hafford. “There’s a lot of people.”


Leniel said she’s always been drawn to music so she was proud to showcase fiddling in front of such a large audience.


“They’re traditional Athabascan songs. Eagle Island Blues, I’m going to be soloing Fisher’s Hornpipe,” she explained.


She and her twin sister Lynette picked up fiddling about three years ago.


“She plays louder than me,” said Lynette, who’s older by only two minutes. “She plays more songs than me. We can do duets and it’s really fun.”


The 17-year-old Fairbanks girls were adopted by Heather Hafford and her husband when the couple moved to Alaska in 2000.


“I was born on the East Coast, my husband was born in Galena. He’s Native, but he was raised in Connecticut,” Heather explained. “We weren’t doing so well keeping them in touch with their Native culture.”


Heather said being a part of the fiddling group has been instrumental in getting the girls in touch with their Gwich’in heritage.


“We knew it was important for them to be in touch with their Native identity before they could find their own identity,” said Heather.


While each fiddler can show off their individual skills performing solos, in the end it’s really about teamwork.


“We stick together when we have to be a group. If one’s out it kind of falls apart,” Lynette said.


Fiddling is a way for the kids to connect to their ancestors by sharing the music of their past.