After years canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic, Native Youth Olympics are returning to the Kenai Peninsula with the Kahtnuht’ana Hey Chi’ula NYO Invitational, hosted by the Kenaitze Indian Tribe this weekend.
Native Youth Olympics are a series of events derived from traditional Alaska Native feats of athleticism. Across the three-day competition, athletes will compete in a dozen different events, including the Alaskan high kick, the scissor broad jump, the wrist carry, the seal hop and more.
NYO is built into the Yaghanen after-school programs at the campus, Sara Battiest, Yaghanen K-12 administrator, said Tuesday. The students have been practicing the events around three times a week since the fall, and will perform across two age groups: junior, which includes kids from first through sixth grade, and senior, which is seventh through 12th.
The NYO Invitational isn’t just the return of competition from COVID-19, but also the kickoff for the 2023 season. Dena’ina Language Instructor Yvonne Flynn explained the athletes would be competing nearly every weekend until April.
“This one’s really special, because it’s the kickoff,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun to start seeing all your friends that you haven’t seen in almost a year.”
The event will be held Friday through Sunday, with competition held in the Kenai Middle School gym all three days, and a musical performance by Byron Nicholai of “I Sing, You Dance,” held at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Kahtnuht’ana Duhdeldiht Campus. Admission to the competitions at KMS are free; admission to the musical performance is $5 at the door.
Flynn said teams were coming from the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, Salamatof Native Association, Seward, Homer, Ninilchik, Chickaloon, Service High School and Sterling Elementary.
Battiest said more than 100 athletes are expected to hit the gym this weekend.
Instead of intense competition, Flynn said the event would feel “like a family community coming together and celebrating being back together.” She said coaches and athletes would help and cheer for one another, even across teams.
“It really is a community,” she said. “I think that’s one thing that everyone’s been missing.”
The performance by Nicholai is part of that community engagement, Battiest said. Partnering the statewide kick off of competition with a community event creates a sense of camaraderie, she said, and Nicholai is a great inclusion especially for the youth in the community.
“He is a young, Indigenous man who is extremely successful in his craft and his trade,” she said. The Yaghanen program is “intentional about inspiring all of our athletes and our Indigenous kids and students that we’re working with to be able to see somebody being very successful in what he’s doing, having fun and creating a livelihood for himself in an area you wouldn’t think about.”
According to isingyoudance.com, Nicholai’s website, he was born in Toksook Bay and gained popularity by posting videos of his singing in Yup’ik to Facebook. The website says that a viral video led “some media to dub him the ‘Justin Bieber of Alaska.’” The site says he has since released an album and two EPs as “his style has ventured more into Yup’ik rap, hip hop, and R&B.”
For more information about the NYO Invitational, visit facebook.com/kenaitze.