One cannot go wrong exploring the richness of Alaska’s Native people. It is the rare tour that does not take at least a brief look into the many indigenous groups possessing traditions going back thousands of years and setting the stage for Alaska’s past, present, and future. In fact, so much of our state’s heritage was formed, for better or worse, upon Native Alaskan events and people, any visitor (or resident, for that matter) would be remiss if he or she did not take advantage of the many opportunities available to immerse one’s family in such beautiful traditions.
The Native Youth Olympics are a perfect example. Held each spring in Anchorage, NYO showcases the best of the best in teenage prowess while imitating skills crucial to surviving in the Alaska wilderness. Also an opportunity to show off the incredible diversity among 49th state Native populations, NYO also provides the visitor a glimpse into traditions beyond physical strength and endurance, showing us that truly a village can indeed raise its children, teaching everything from skinning seals to drying fish to sewing kuspuks; and they want us to know how, too.
NYO kicks off Friday, April 29 at the Dena’ina Convention Center in downtown Anchorage. With a snazzy new schedule of events, including award-winning music by Pamyua, a Pilot Bread recipe contest, and a visit from past NYO-champion and current Iditarod winner John Baker, the weekend promises to be a bonanza of Native festivity that rivals any similar event held in the Lower 48.
With 500+ youth from all over the state in grades 6-12, kids (Native or non-Native) show their stuff in such events like the Seal Hop, Wrist Carry, High Kick, and Stick Pull over the course of three days. Coaches prompt, the crowds cheer (support the likes of which many a professional sporting contest could learn a lot from), and the drums beat a tattoo of tradition inspiring all who are in attendance. Find a comprehensive Schedule of Events HERE, along with info about the Pamyua concert, John Baker’s appearance, and the NYO Opportunities Expo, where one can find crafts, music, and good conversation all weekend. AND, make sure you tune into the Alaska Travelgram Show tomorrow, Tuesday, since we’ll have a few special guests from the Native Youth Olympics talking about what we can expect to see, hear, and taste this weekend. 2-3 p.m. on KOAN 95.5 FM or 1020 AM.
To compliment such a wonderful weekend of athleticism, try visiting a few other spots around the southcentral area of Alaska to learn more about the indigenous people who called the state home long before any of us showed up.
Anchorage is the perfect place to start, just down the street from the Dena’ina Center. The Anchorage Museum offers a wonderful glimpse into Native Alaskan populations and a beautiful Arctic Studies exhibit that is breathtaking. Buy a Culture Pass there, and visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center in east Anchorage, accessible by shuttle starting in May. ANHC is the place to be, and their indoor/outdoor format for exhibits is wonderful for families. Don’t miss the tour of different and completely authentic dwellings outside, then allow the kids to get creative in the Art Center. On May 8 the Center opens for the summer season and admission is FREE (great Mother’s Day idea).
Another kid-friendly stop is the Alaska Museum of Natural History in Mountainview, just a hop from the Native Heritage Center. Constantly evolving their exhibits, the Museum has some great hands-on opportunities for children to explore the inner workings of Native life while learning about Alaska’s natural past. Let ’em climb on a wooly mammoth or try out a cozy fur suit and then run into the new Ice exhibit to get a feel for how chilly life must have been for the ancient Native Alaskans.
Take time, also, to chat with the Native guides at the Heritage Center and Native Youth Olympics. Children are a treasure and elders love nothing more than inquisitive youngsters. That is, after all, how we learn.