Culture and friendly competition will collide this weekend in the annual Peninsula Winter Games Native Youth Olympics Invitational, during which kids from all over Southcentral Alaska take part in traditional Native games.
A tradition that began in the 1970s, the youth olympics take place in several communities around Alaska. On the Kenai Peninsula, they are hosted by the Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s Yaghanen Youth Programs. Teams of kids from the first through twelfth grades will converge on Mountain View Elementary School gymnasium this Friday through Sunday to display the fruits of months of practice.
“The games the kids will be playing this weekend are traditional Native Alaskan games that they’ve been playing for hundreds or thousands of years,” said Yaghanen Youth Programs Administrator Michael Bernard, who is coordinating the games.
Bernard said he is expecting about 90 kids to attend this year.
“One thing that I really like about the Kenaitze Indian Tribe is that they open up these programs to anybody in the community,” Bernard said.
Kids who want to participate in the youth programming don’t have to be Native, he said. The olympic invitational itself has extra slots allotted for children in the community who are not on a team but want to participate in the games. They can come the day of the event and get help from instructors and the other kids in order to join in, Bernard said.
“Other competitors will be there to help assist,” he said.
This mentality is part of what makes the invitational a bit less about pure competition and a bit more about coming together to celebrate the traditional games.
One of the volunteers this year Nicole Johnston, a former record-holder in the two-foot high kick who was a 2017 inductee into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. She is also the guest speaker slated for Saturday evening after a Cultural Dinner hosted by the Kenatize Indian Tribe at 5:30 p.m. in the Mountain View gym and before a concert featuring PAMYUA, an Alaska Native group. The evening celebration is also a fundraiser for the Yaghanen Youth Programs and begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Soldotna High School Auditorium. Admission is $10.
This year’s games will kick off at 6 p.m. Friday at the Mountain View gym after an opening ceremony at 5:30 p.m. There are games for kids of all size, strength and ability, Bernard said. Some events are Inuit games while others are more related to the Alaska Athabascan and American Indian styles, he said.
For more information, contact Bernard at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Yaghanen Youth Center at (907) 335-7290.