Senior Ashton Oyloe is thrown into the air by fellow students during a blanket toss demonstration at Thunder Mountain High School on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Senior Ashton Oyloe is thrown into the air by fellow students during a blanket toss demonstration at Thunder Mountain High School on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Getting air on a seal skin blanket: Juneau students learn Iñupiat tradition

Watch a blanket toss.

For Friday’s lunch hour, some Thunder Mountain High School students put down their pencils and picked up a piece of Iñupiat tradition.

Native Youth Olympics coach Kyle Kaayák’w Worl and approximately 50 high school students spent the noon hour “throwing” their peers 10-15 feet above a trampoline-sized seal skin blanket. Grasping loops of rope and bending forward and backward in unison, the five dozen teenagers watched gleefully as they shot their classmates into the air, and in some cases, had to reposition themselves to ensure for a safe landing.

“At the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics you’ll see them go at least twice as high as that,” said Worl, who said they only had about two-thirds of the optimum amout of pullers. “It’s a huge adrenaline rush to do it. You’ll see people do back flips and spins and high kicks.”

Native Youth Olympics athlete Sara Steeves, a senior at Thunder Mountain High School, takes to the air in a blanket toss demonstration during the lunch hour in the Thunder Mountain High School gymnasium on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Native Youth Olympics athlete Sara Steeves, a senior at Thunder Mountain High School, takes to the air in a blanket toss demonstration during the lunch hour in the Thunder Mountain High School gymnasium on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The event served as a precursor to the 2019 Traditional Games, a statewide indigenous sporting event that took place Saturday and Sunday at TMHS. The Worl-led Juneau team competed against competition from Hoonah, Ketchikan, Metlakatla, Yakutat, Bethel, Utqiagvik, Whitehorse and Northern Arizona University.

“It was a way to preview our event tomorrow (Saturday) to bring more people in but also I wanted to show the broader school what these games are about,” Worl said. “A lot of them haven’t seen it before, they might be a little too nervous to check out these games, but we want everyone to feel like it’s something that they could be a part of.”

A traditional bearded seal blanket borrowed from the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics waits a toss demonstration during the lunch hour in the Thunder Mountain High School gymnasium on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

A traditional bearded seal blanket borrowed from the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics waits a toss demonstration during the lunch hour in the Thunder Mountain High School gymnasium on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

TMHS sophomore Tiana Ault was one of the last lucky students to get on the blanket, and was still smiling 10 minutes after she finished.

“It’s a lot like jumping on the trampoline but you’re not jumping,” she said. “You’re having people pull you up. You’re getting the same air as you do on a trampoline but it’s different because you’re getting pulled this time. You have no ability to jump because it pushes you up.”

Worl thinks it’s the first time an authentic Iñupiat blanket has made it to Juneau. He said blankets are difficult to make and the materials needed to make them like bearded seal skins are difficult to acquire. Thus, there isn’t an abundance of them in the state, let alone south of the Arctic Circle.

Shannon Hawkins, lead official for this weekend’s Traditional Games, borrowed the blanket from WEIO, an annual Alaska Native sporting festival that counts the blanket toss as one of its events. In the blanket toss, athletes are judged for the height and style in which they jump, as well as whether they land on their feet. Many contestants can do front flips and back flips.

“I think getting as much exposure between NYO and WEIO is great for any event,” Hawkins said.


• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or nainsworth@juneauempire.com. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.


More in News

This photo shows the National Archives in the Sand Point neighborhood of Seattle that has about a million boxes of generally unique, original source documents and public records. In an announcement made Thursday, April 8, 2021, the Biden administration has halted the sale of the federal archives building in Seattle, following months of opposition from people across the Pacific Northwest and a lawsuit by the Washington Attorney General's Office. Among the records at the center are tribal, military, land, court, tax and census documents. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)
Biden halts sale of National Archives center in Seattle

Tribes and members of Congress pushed for the halt.

This photo shows Unangax̂ Gravesite at Funter Bay, the site where Aleut villagers forcibly relocated to the area during World War II are buried. A bill recently passed by the Alaska House of Representatives would make the area part of a neighboring state park. (Courtesy photo / Niko Sanguinetti, Juneau-Douglas City Museum) 
DO NOT REUSE THIS PHOTO WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM JUNEAU DOUGLAS CITY MUSEUM. -BEN HOHENSTATT
Bill to preserve Unangax̂ Gravesite passes House

Bill now heads to the state Senate.

After over 30 years at 3100 Channel Drive, the Juneau Empire offices are on the move. (Ben Hohenstatt /Juneau Empire File)
The Juneau Empire is on the move

Advertising and editorial staff are moving to Jordan Creek Center.

The state announced this week that studded tires will be allowed for longer than usual. In Southeast Alaska, studded tires will be allowed until May 1 instead of April 15. (Dana Zigmund / Juneau Empire)
State extends studded tire deadline

Prolonged wintry weather triggers the change.

COVID at a glance for Monday, April 12

The most recent state and local numbers.

Has it always been a police car. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Police calls for Sunday, April 11, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Court sides with Dunleavy in appointments dispute

The court, in a brief order, reversed a ruling by a superior court judge.

The Juneau Police Department are seeking Brenda Jay Gallant, 40, after she was indicted recently for her alleged role in a 2021 vehicle arson. (Courtesy photo / JPD)
Police seeking woman indicted for arson

The indictment for the August fire came this March.

Most Read