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Native Youth Olympics—More Than Just Fun and Games

Alaska's First Peoples have called the Last Frontier home for thousands of years. Enduring the 49th State's subarctic environment required individual strength, prowess and keen instincts, as well as the ability to work together toward a common goal. Games and contests were used to develop these critical hunting and survival skills.

Today those same skills and values are put to the test at the annual Native Youth Olympics (NYO) Games. Established in 1972 and hosted by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, NYO brings together hundreds of student-athletes from across Alaska to participate in 10 events based on traditional contests. The Games take place each February (youth division) and April (senior division) in Anchorage. (The 2020 and 2021 Games were held virtually due to COVID-19).

Each event is designed to test one's physical and mental endurance, as well as build leadership skills and a spirit of cooperation. Participants are challenged to perform their individual best while also supporting their fellow competitors – regardless of the team. NYO events include:


To begin, athletes sit on the floor and balance on one foot while grabbing hold of the other foot. They then thrust their balancing foot straight up to kick a suspended ball, landing back on their kicking foot – all while keeping their balance. The game was originally used by hunting parties to signal to their village that a hunt was successful.


Athletes begin by balancing their body weight on the palm or knuckles of one hand. They then reach for a suspended ball with their free hand and replace it on the floor – without letting any other body part touch the ground. This game was played to maintain physical fitness during the winter months, as well as demonstrate balance, strength and control.


This event requires athletes to jump with both feet simultaneously, kick a suspended ball, and land back on both feet without falling backwards. Historically it was used to communicate when a hunt was unsuccessful.


This exercise was used to sneak up on a seal by mimicking its movement on the ice. From a push-up position, contestants must "hop" across the floor on their hands and toes while maintaining the push-up position.

To learn more about the Native Youth Olympics – including details about each event with step-by-step how-to videos – visit the Cook Inlet Tribal Council website.

Image credits: Cook Inlet Tribal Council

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