Northern Arizona University’s Miss Indigenous Shondiin Mayo, center, greets the crowd at the 2019 Traditional Games at Thunder Mountain High School on Saturday, March 16, 2019. Mayo and several others from NAU are participating in the two-day event featuring the traditional games of the Alaska Native peoples. (Nolin Ainsworth | Juneau Empire)

Northern Arizona University’s Miss Indigenous Shondiin Mayo, center, greets the crowd at the 2019 Traditional Games at Thunder Mountain High School on Saturday, March 16, 2019. Mayo and several others from NAU are participating in the two-day event featuring the traditional games of the Alaska Native peoples. (Nolin Ainsworth | Juneau Empire)

Alaska youth rally together at Traditional Games

Teams came from as far as Arizona

The first day of the 2019 Traditional Games was rife with displays of unity and togetherness, as teams from across the state of Alaska (and one from Arizona) gathered for Native Youth Olympics.

Around 60 Juneau athletes were joined by several dozen visiting athletes from such distant outposts of Utqiagvik, Bethel and even Arizona for the games, which are based on Alaska’s indigenous peoples’ hunting and survival skills. In the past, Juneau athletes would need to travel to Anchorage or Fairbanks for such competitions.

[Juneau welcomed back to Native Youth Olympics]

“What you’re doing here today is you’re building a support group — don’t ever feel alone,” Sealaska Heritage Institute Vice President Albert Kookesh said in the opening remarks on Saturday morning at Thunder Mountain High School. “These people are your support group. Stay with them. Stay with them.”

The Juneau team included students from both middle schools — Floyd Dryden and Dzantik’i Heeni — and all three high schools — Juneau-Douglas, Thunder Mountain and Yaakoosge Daakahidi. All the athletes filed into the gym with their respective teams to begin the opening ceremonies, and after listening to Kookesh and others, took in a performance from Tlingit rapper Arias Hoyle.

[For the first time since the 1980s, Juneau will compete at the Native Youth Olympics]

“I love the new introduction of the rapper and I also like the fact that we had elders dispense wisdom onto us,” NYO official Vincent Tomalonis said. “Hearing all the sponsors speak was great and very inspiring. Behind the scenes (Juneau coach) Kyle (Kaayák’w Worl) only had one hour of sleep. He deserves lots of credit for hosting all these things.”

Tlingit rapper Arias Hoyle performs during the 2019 Traditional Games opening ceremonies. (Nolin Ainsworth | Juneau Empire)

Tlingit rapper Arias Hoyle performs during the 2019 Traditional Games opening ceremonies. (Nolin Ainsworth | Juneau Empire)

Tommy Bayayok, Bethel Regional High School head coach, brought eight athletes down from the remote city located 400 miles west of Anchorage.

“When I first got the message from Kyle about Juneau hosting, I’ve never been to Southeast, I was very interested in the fundraising to bring the group,” Bayayok said.

“We did a couple of weekends of concession stands at ballgames back home.”

He brought a pretty good team of athletes, too, many of whom were eager to test their skills against new blood.

“I’ve never been here personally but I thought it would be a good experience to get to compete against new people and have newer competition,” Bethel’s JoBeth Stuart, 18, said.

Stuart was one of the top girl competitors at the NYO state games in Anchorage last year, like her teammate, Kelsie Madson.

“NYO is the sport that represents the culture,” Madson, 17, said. “I think it’s cool that more people are getting involved again.”

Before 2017, Native Youth Olympics were only practiced at the elementary school level in Juneau. Last year about 50 high school students started competing in the sport after Worl started practicing with JDHS, TMHS and YDHS students.

The inaugural Traditional Games were held at the University of Alaska Southeast but competition was only open to Juneau athletes.


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


Traditional Games official and former World Eskimo-Indian Olympics blanket toss winner Marjorie Tahbone shows off her skills to kick off the 2019 Traditional Games at Thunder Mountain High School on March 16, 2019. (Nolin Ainsworth | Juneau Empire)

Traditional Games official and former World Eskimo-Indian Olympics blanket toss winner Marjorie Tahbone shows off her skills to kick off the 2019 Traditional Games at Thunder Mountain High School on March 16, 2019. (Nolin Ainsworth | Juneau Empire)

More in Sports

The author’s wife fights a steelhead while the author contemplates fly selection. (Photo by Jeff Lund)
I Went to the Woods: The fear of missing fish

Student: “You know, FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out” Me: “I know… Continue reading

Astrophysicists Lindsay Glesener, left, and Sabrina Savage enjoy the sunshine on an observation deck at the Neil Davis Science Center on a hilltop at Poker Flat Research Range north of Fairbanks. (Photo by Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Waiting for the sun at Poker Flat

POKER FLAT RESEARCH RANGE — Under a bluebird sky and perched above… Continue reading

Maddy Fortunato, a Chickaloon middle school student, sets to attempt the one-hand reach by touching a suspended ball while remaining balanced on the other hand during the Traditional Games on Sunday at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Striving for the perfect balance of competition, camaraderie at seventh annual Traditional Games

More than 250 participants pursue personal goals while helping others during Indigenous events.

Purple mountain saxifrage blooms on cliffs along Perseverance Trail in early April. (Photo by Pam Bergeson)
On the Trails: Flowers and their visitors

Flowers influence their visitors in several ways. Visitors may be attracted by… Continue reading

Elias Lowell, 15, balances his way to the end of the pond during the annual Slush Cup at Eaglecrest Ski Area on Sunday, the last day of what officials called and up-and-down season. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Up-and-down season at Eaglecrest ends on splashy note with Slush Cup

Ski area’s annual beach party features ice-filled water, snowy shores and showboating skimmers.

Aren Gunderson of the UA Museum of the North inspects the back paw of a Siberian tiger donated recently by officials of the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage after the tiger died at age 19. (Photo by Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Siberian tiger takes final rest at museum

It’s a safe bet that Aren Gunderson’s Toyota Tundra is the only… Continue reading

A rainbow connects with Kajson Cunningham (30) as he connects with the ball for Thunder Mountain High School during Tuesday’s game against Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé at JDHS, the opening match of the season for both teams. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
High school soccer season starts with a spectrum of goals and milestones

JDHS boys begin state title defense with 4-0 victory over TMHS, which is playing its final season.

Donovan Jackson, 12, of Juneau competes in the one-foot high kick during the 2022 Traditional Games on April 2, 2022. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire file photo)
Record number of participants expected for seventh annual Traditional Games

Teams from Alaska, Canada and Lower 48 to compete in 12 Indigenous skills events starting Friday.

Alwen Carrillo, a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, signs a letter of intent on Monday to play college basketball at Edmond College in Lynnwood, Washington. (Photo courtesy of Annie Lazo-Chappell)
Alwen Carrillo signs letter of intent to play basketball for Edmond College

All-state JDHS guard averaged 16.2 points, 5.2 assists during senior season.

Most Read