FAIRBANKS -- Athletes and dancers from the Eskimo, Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian, Aleut and Athabaskan cultures converge on Fairbanks this week to participate in the four-day World Eskimo Indian Olympics.
The WEIO games get under way tonight at the Big Dipper Ice Arena and continue through Saturday.
The event features athletic and cultural events ranging from the dramatic and spine-tingling ear weight and ear pull competitions to the Native baby contest and the Miss WEIO beauty pageant.
Most of the 25 or so athletic competitions are derived from skills necessary or useful in traditional Native lifestyles.
The original purpose of some of the competitions are obvious, such as fish cutting and seal skinning. Others are less so, for example the blanket toss. That is thought to have been used so hunters could see seals beyond the ice pack.
Two years ago, rookie Michael Paulsen shattered a 1984 record by walking 2,886 feet with 16 pounds dangling from one ear.
The festivities begin with the Race of the Torch, in which the male and female winners of the previous 5-kilometer run carry the torch in the opening ceremonies.
The games continue with morning and evening sessions on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Throughout the Olympics, traditional Native dances are performed between events.
Native artisans sell traditional hand-crafted art and jewelry. Old friends, who often only see each other once a year at this long-standing annual event, catch up on the details of the previous winter.