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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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2009 World Eskimo-Indian Olympics Begin In Fairbanks
by Fairbanks (AK) Daily News - Miner staff
credits: Photos by Sam Harrel - Fairbanks (AK) Daily News - Miner
FAIRBANKS — No sooner had the seal oil lamps been lit at the 48th World Eskimo-Indian Olympics than Caitlyn Pickett-Bowell went spinning 15 feet into the Carlson Center air before more than 40 volunteers cushioned her landing in the blanket toss event.

"This has become the love of my life, doing the blanket toss," she gushed Wednesday evening as she chewed on a salmon strip given to her by a friend.

Pickett-Bowell is 17, and this year marks her 17th WEIO — the last 10 as a competitor.

She is the daughter of Native games legend Carol Hull — who also competed in the women's blanket toss preliminaries — and stepdaughter of Garry Hull, who graces the cover of this year's WEIO program doing the two-foot high kick.

Pickett-Bowell, all 5-foot-1 and 100 pounds of her, was careful to instruct the pullers to coordinate their launch of her by lifting simultaneously upward on the walrus hide "blanket."

"Never jump," said Pickett-Bowell, who once demonstrated the blanket toss in the background of NBC's "Today" show. "Let them throw you."

One competitor hadn't yet learned that lesson and injured her ankle. She was wheeled from the Carlson Center on a stretcher.

The blanket toss wouldn't be possible without the volunteer pullers, who WEIO board member Gina Kalloch helped recruit by telling them they'd have the best view of the popular event. Kalloch also informed the crowd that the blanket toss is a traditional Eskimo game and part of the celebration of a successful whale hunt.

One of the tossers was Gerg Apalt, who attended the opening night of the four-day cultural and athletic celebration with his wife and two daughters. The family is relocating from Homer to Virginia and is touring Fairbanks before departing Alaska.

"It was fun. I've never done anything like that before," said Apalt, whose daughters, ages 5 and 8, got to try the blanket toss this winter at the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous Festival.

Apalt didn't hesitate to join about 40 others on the arena floor.

"It seemed like they were targeting people like me," Apalt said, referring to his strength and fitness.

Later, the Kuugmiut Dancers from the village of Wainwright on the Arctic Ocean also invited the crowd to join them, and dozens accepted the invitation.

Jimmie Kagak is the vice president of the dance group. Many of their acts, like the "Walrus Dance," tell stories passed down through the generations.

"(We are here) to show off our culture, to show off our dances and to get to see all our friends that we've made through the years," said Kagak, who wore a ceremonial headdress made of a loon and eagle feathers along with 30-year-old mukluks that he only breaks out for performances.

Among the group's 40 members — "we're a big extended family from the same family tree," Kagak said — were kids as young as 4 years old. They received some of the loudest applause after dancing on their own to drumming and singing from the rest of the group seated behind them.

Kagak can relate. He's 44 and said he learned how to dance "before I learned how to walk."

The opening ceremonies included a march by the Native Veterans Color Guard, welcome addresses from North Pole mayors Doug Isaacson of North Pole and Jim Whitaker of the Fairbanks North Star Borough and a lighting of the seal oil lamps by Race of the Torch winners Andrew Marks of Tanana and Delilah DeWilde of Huslia.

Meanwhile, the fish-cutting contest was postponed until tonight because of a shortage of fish. About a dozen whole fish still needed to be donated, it was announced. Tonight's program also includes the Alaska high kick, the men's blanket toss preliminaries and a muktuk eating contest.


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