6th annual Traditional Games encourage youth to immerse in culture

    For the first time ever, archery was part of the Traditional Games. (Photo credit to Jasz Garrett)

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The 6th annual Traditional Games took place Saturday and Sunday at Thunder Mountain High School.

    Saturday's games were 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. with an opening ceremony at 6 p.m.

    Sunday's games were 9 am-5 pm, also at Thunder Mountain High School with an award ceremony. 

    Local Teams:

    JDHS: Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kalé High School

    TMHS: Thunder Mountain HS

    YDHS: Yakoosgé Daakahídi HS

    DHMS: Dzantik’i Héeni Middle School

    FDMS: Floyd Dryden Middle School

    Coach Kyle Worl gave details on the history of the games.

    "The traditional games draw their origins from various Alaska native cultures, but also they're played more broadly across the circumpolar north in northern Canada, in Greenland, and even in some places in Russia," he said. "They were traditionally played by the hunters as a way to train necessary skills for survival. So, the games were about training strength or endurance, agility, balance, and coordination."

    Rye Denni, an official, and participant in the games talked about her experience. She came from Ketchikan.

    "I'm here at Traditional Games because my coach gave me a travel scholarship and offered me this amazing opportunity to come down here and help officiate. I get to compete and help with the youth, making sure they're following all the rules while they're playing the games, and we're marking down their lengths properly," she said. "I used to be a peer mentor for TM, and then I coached middle school for DZ when I lived here. I am excited, I get to see all those students who are now sophomores and really good. It's cool to see they're still doing it, you know, it wasn't all for nothing." 

    She first became involved with the Traditional Games in 2017.

    Denni participated in the scissor broad jump, one-foot and two-foot Alaska high kicks, and the Inuit and Dené stick pole.

    The first event on Saturday was at 9:00 a.m., the scissor broad jump and kneel jump.

    Following that at 10:00 a.m. was the wrist carry and the prelim one-foot-high kick.

    During the one-foot-high kick, each participant received three chances and a minute for each attempt.

    The history of the high kick

    From a standing or running start, athletes jump with both feet, kick a suspended ball with one foot, then land on the kicking foot—without losing balance. The ball is raised in increments of four inches after each round. In many cultures, the one-foot high kick was used for signaling a successful hunt.

    The two-foot-high kick was historically used to communicate the success of a spring hunt.

    Above: Aliyaq Blanchett, a 3rd grader from Anchorage, kicks at 58 inches high. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    "It was my first time ever competing," he told News of the North. "So much fun!"

    Another elementary schooler, Minali Reid, was invited to attend from Kax̱dig̱oowu Héen Elementary School (Riverbend) in Juneau. It was also her first event.

    Above: Daniel Rodgers, a 7th grader from Chickaloon, made it into the top 5 for the high kick. Below: Layla Harrison, also from Chickaloon, keeps her focus during the high kick. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    The next event at 11:00 a.m. was the Dené stick pull.

    The history of the Dené Stick Pull

    Contestants stand next to each other facing in opposite directions, and each place their near foot forward and alongside the outside of their opponent’s. With their near arms held down, contestants grab the opposite end of a tapered and greased wooden dowel and attempt to pull the stick from their opponent’s hand. The Dené Stick Pull represents grabbing a slippery salmon and was used traditionally to develop hand and arm strength.

    Below: Dzantik’i Héeni 6th grader Erin Rockwell and Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi JJ Gracealny give it their all in the Dené stick pull. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    New records for 2023


    Middle school girls

    1st: Molly Evans, HOM, 25’ 4”, (New TG Record)

    High school boys

    1st: Colton Paul, MEHS, 37’ 3 ¼”, (New TG Record)

    Middle school boys

    1st: Donald Heflin, KIN, 28’ 3 ½”, (New TG Record)

    Open female

    1st: Eden Hopson, ANC, 26’ 1”, (New TG Record)


    High school boys

    1st: Colton Paul, MEHS, 65”, (New TG Record)

    Open female

    1st: Amber Vaska, FAI, 48 ½”, (New TG Record)

    High school boys

    1st: Colton Paul, MEHS, 65”, (New TG Record)


    High school boys

    1st: Sampson Oliver, KTN, 251’5’’, (New Record)

    For the first time ever, archery was part of the Traditional Games.

    There was a high school and a middle school tournament Saturday.

    Worl explained how archery fits into Traditional Games.

    "We have a total of 12 different events happening over the weekend. This is our first time holding an archery tournament, and the athletes are excited. Since all traditional games are connected to hunting and living off the land, archery goes well with that," he said.

    Along with a first-time archery event, there was a first-time award.

    "We have a new award for a college team. We have four college teams participating: University of Alaska Southeast, University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Alaska Pacific University. This new award is the all-around college team award and it's the first time we've done it. I think we're the first event that really highlights college teams and it's kind of a new frontier for traditional games to expand into the collegiate level as a sport," he explained. "We're used to seeing the sport done K through 12. Who says it should stop after high school? A lot of athletes want to continue the sport and college is a great place to keep the sport going."

    The Santa Fe group was a first-time attendant, as well as the Yellowknife, Canada team.

    Above: University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) student Joevahnta Usugan-Weddington concentrates on the target. Below: UAF student Kyle Kanuk draws his bow. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Below: The high schoolers (and older) participants went through 10 rounds during the archery tournament. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    "This year there are vendors on site. Very cool to see the different Indigenous art pieces, the different stories that they have. It feels like this is a good chance to immerse yourself in culture again if that's what you need," Contestant and official Denni said. 

    Below: Aiyana James sells her art with Kellie James' support. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

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