Traditional Games return to Juneau for its 6th year-registration now open

    Coach Kyle Worl (Photo credit to Traditional Games/Sealaska Heritage website)

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The weekend event is scheduled from April 1-2 at Thunder Mountain High School.

    The games will include teams competing in 10 events over two days and be live streamed on Sealaska Heritage Institute’s YouTube and a website set up for the games.

    The day generally runs from 9 am to 5 pm each day.

    Admission is free.

    The registration form for athletes ages 11 and older is now available online. People can register as an individual or a team.

    Athletes who register by March 1 are eligible to win a sealskin kicking ball in a drawing.

    Coach Kyle Kaayák’w Worl has been coaching the Native Youth Olympics/Traditional Games for six years. One year was spent coaching in Anchorage, and the other five have been spent coaching here in Juneau. He's also been an athlete of the Traditional Games for 14 years.

    Worl welcomed people of all ages and experience levels.

    "One of the things that make Traditional Games a unique sport is there's a different mindset that is often seen in mainstream sports, where you're really focused on competition. Within Traditional Games, very different mindset, there's no such thing as a rival team. Everybody there is there to achieve their personal best. There is a competitive setting where there's medals. But that's not the focus of the event. The focus of the game is creating positive friendships with other athletes, learning from others, learning the traditions of the game, the cultural significance of them. Any skill level can participate in the games, and not everybody can jump or kick. But many people still love to try the games out for the experience of being on the floor and being part of that very uplifting community that is the games. You don't have to be Alaska Native either-all backgrounds are welcome. What you'll find out as a new athlete on the floor is the other athletes with experience, they'll be happy to show you the rules and how to complete some of the movements. It's just a natural part of the games. If there's any newcomers, you'll have a lot of support there."

    The Traditional Games include a middle school division, high school division, and an adult division.

    Worl gave a background on the Traditional Games.

    "It's an event hosted by Sealaska Heritage in collaboration with Central Council Tlingit & Haida. The event includes about 10 traditional games that draw their origins from various Indigenous cultures of the north or the Arctic. Most of the games that are really well known, like the high kicking games, those ones come specifically from the Inupiaq people of the northernmost region of Alaska and their neighbors or relatives in Canada, the Inuit. So they're traditional games that are done across the circumpolar north. They were traditionally played by hunters back in the day to train necessary skills for survival. So each game was a test of either strength, or agility, balance, endurance, focus. Some of them pull in survival skills, or hunting techniques. These are all necessary things for the hunters to be successful in their role as the provider for the community. Today, they're played really like any other modern sport. They're played across Alaska, they're played in schools. We have practices, we have regional meets, we have district meets, we have statewide meets and international meets."

    The upcoming sixth annual Traditional Games is the regional meet for Southeast Alaska, and will qualify a team to enter the statewide games (that meets in Anchorage).

    The majority of the teams are from Southeast, from Skagway all the way down to Metlakatla.

    However, a few other communities have attended in the past and are still invited to do so, such as Nome, Anchorage, Bethel or Homer, Worl said.

    Worl said that if someone isn't yet of age to register but wants to start practicing, that's possible.

    "We do host an elementary event and that's actually coming up February 10. It's an elementary event here in Juneau for grades three through five. There's really opportunities for all age levels in the sport."

    Worl explained how the Traditional Games are more than just a game. Each game holds great cultural significance and a story behind it.

    "The scissor broad jump is a four step broad jump, but it's supposed to be practiced for jumping on ice floats. So it's a survival skill game. We have the seal hop that mimics a seal hopping on the ice. It was a hunting technique back in the day before rifles, they had their harpoons. They had to sneak up to the seal without scaring it off. They did that by mimicking the seal. Same with the Inuit Stick Pole. That was another technique of going after seals, to hunt a seal by waiting at the breathing hole. Then you harpoon the seal and you use your line to wrap it around your harpoon shaft and use that to pull in the seal from the water. The high kicking games, like the one foot high kick, and the two foot high kick, are based on a form of sign language that was used on the Arctic tundra as a way to signal a successful or unsuccessful hunt. They're really more than just games, they had real life applications and real life skills that they were training for."

    Videos explaining each background of the games can be found here.

    By participating in the Traditional Games, Worl said people learn a greater appreciation for traditional culture and a subsistence way of life.

    "Even here in southeast Alaska, that may not be from Indigenous cultures up north, like participants who may be Tlingit or Haida that are more local to this area, really identify with the games. It really holds similar cultural values. Here in southeast Alaska, we were hunters and gatherers as well. We had to work together for that successful hunt. So really, it holds the same cultural value to us. It's an avenue for them to learn more about their own culture, their own language, their own traditions or their own food."

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