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)

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.

More than 260 participants representing 29 teams from Alaska, Canada and the Lower 48 are scheduled to compete in a dozen events based on ancient hunting and survival skills of Indigenous people during the seventh annual Traditional Games starting Friday at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, according to organizers.

While a few events such as archery and the scissor broad jump will be familiar to people at the games for the first time, others such as the Alaskan high kick, seal hop and dené stick pull will be a learning experience. But that’s part of the spirit of the games where the concept of competition is about personal goals in a setting where other participants are willing to offer tips and other assistance, said Kyle Worl, a coach and participant as well as an organizer of the games.

“It’s a very inviting atmosphere for new athletes and new learners, or even non-athletes,” he said, adding “I was a high schooler that wasn’t known for doing sports. I didn’t do a lot of sports or activities. Then I found my athleticism through this sport. I think a lot of times young people might be turned off by the competitiveness of a sport, whether they’re good enough for the sport. But with the Traditional Games there’s a different mindset. It’s not about whether you’re good enough. It’s just about whether you’re interested in trying something out and being part of a community, and trying to go for your own self-improvement versus competition.”

Paige Hansen, 12, of Petersburg, competes in the kneel jump during the 2022 Traditional Games at Thunder Mountain High School while officials Ezra Elisoff and Anna Eason observe. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire file photo)

Paige Hansen, 12, of Petersburg, competes in the kneel jump during the 2022 Traditional Games at Thunder Mountain High School while officials Ezra Elisoff and Anna Eason observe. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire file photo)

The number of participants is the highest ever as the event has continued to grow annually, aside from the COVID-19 years, Worl said.

“We have the greatest representation of Southeast communities that we’ve ever had,” he said Monday. “That’s always been a push in this event. It invites teams from across Alaska, Canada and the Lower 48, but really our focus is to provide an event for our region so communities like Metlakatla don’t have to go all the way to Anchorage, they can have a regional event. And so we have communities from Yakutat all the way down to Metlakatla and everything in between.”

Participants compete in middle school, high school and open divisions, with men’s and women’s categories for each. Juneau will be represented by teams from Dzántik’i Héeni Middle School, Floyd Dryden Middle School, JDHS, Thunder Mountain High School, Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School, University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) and the Tlingit Culture, Language and Literacy Program.

Participants arriving from outside Southeast include in-state teams as far as Utqiagvik, as well as out-of-state teams from Seattle, Whitehorse and Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas.

“Starting last year we did a really big push to get college teams,” Worl said when asked about the Kansas team. “And this is a new initiative for the sport, that we want to bring the sport to the collegiate level. It’s important for me as a high school coach — I’ve coached these kids all through high school — that they can continue their sport in college and have the same opportunities as, say, a basketball player. So we’ve outreached to colleges across Alaska and also in the Lower 48. And Haskell was a new connection that was made.”

An exchange program through the Sealaska Heritage Institute allowed the Haskell athletes to participate, Worl said.

“We did college tours for our NYO athletes, and they went to Haskell and we did a cultural exchange,” he said. “And we showed them the games and then we created a scholarship program for them to come here to take part in the games.”

The college and adult participants are scheduled to compete starting Friday since a lot of out-of-town students won’t arrive until late that day, with the middle school events starting Saturday morning, Worl said. The official opening ceremony is scheduled at noon Saturday, after which all three divisions will participate in events through Sunday.

Admission is free to the events, which are scheduled from 5:30-9 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sunday. The games will be livestreamed from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday on Sealaska Heritage Institute’s YouTube channel which will be accessible through the Traditional Games website at https://traditionalgames.sealaskaheritage.org.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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