Women showcase traditional talents at Miss World Eskimo-Indian Olympics

Posted: Thursday, July 17, 2008

FAIRBANKS - Conditioning caribou hide in rotten caribou brain water, flinging around-the-worlds with homemade Eskimo yo-yos and speaking in their tribe's native languages were just a few of the talents showcased at the pageant Tuesday morning.

Sam Harrel / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Sam Harrel / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Six contestants vying for the Miss World Eskimo-Indian Olympics crown presented their personal talents at a show held at the Denali Center in front of an audience of about 30 residents, several families and three judges. The college-aged women dressed in traditional regalia and performed for about 20 minutes each, demonstrating activities, physical feats and art that reflect their Alaska Native culture and families.

"My mom would sell these yo-yos in the Inupiaq days, while I would stand by the booth and do this," said Miss Arctic Circle Stacey Harris, spinning a yo-yo made out of seal skin leather, sinew and baline whale as she talked.

The program brings together women who represent communities and villages across Alaska to celebrate indigenous lifestyles, pay respect to their elders and compete in a week-long decathlon of events, part of the 2008 World Eskimo Indian Olympics that began in Fairbanks today.

Contestants win points from the talent show, the first judged event, that accumulate with upcoming personal interviews, impromptu speeches and a host of public appearances. The pageant culminates Friday night with the 2008 Miss WEIO coronation.

The show, from the dress and talents of the young women to the use of Microsoft PowerPoint and TVs, blended old Eskimo traditions with modern flair and technology. The entire talent show screamed of the differences between WEIO and a typical Miss America pageant.

"It's not about a surface type of beauty," pageant leader Mandy Sullivan said. "It's about a deep, cultural type of beauty."

"Starting with the introductions, it's very obvious," she said.

Kelsi Ivanoff, 20, took the floor first, speaking in her native language while introducing herself, the rest of her family from her village of Kasannaluk and sharing her knack for hunting and gathering.

"Once I was old enough and done breast-feeding, my dad would take me hunting with him," she said.

Ivanoff showed PowerPoint slides of herself hunting geese with her two brothers, catching a king salmon before she was big enough to reel it in and as a young teen next to a skinned whale.

"I finally learned to butcher a beluga," she said.

While technology has snuck into the pageant, many contestants dispersed to colleges Outside and wore jeans under their caribou-hide parkas, the core values of Miss WEIO remain strongly traditional.

Sullivan, who marshalled the talent show and is on the board of WEIO, said the contest is one way to prevent Native culture from being lost to the culture of technology.

"Once we lose someone, they're gone," she said.

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