Juneau’s Arctic Sports Crusade: Inspiring the Next Generation in the Lower 48


Now that the North American Indigenous Games Council has approved Arctic sports on a trial basis for the 2027 games in Calgary, fans of Native Youth Olympics believe the events have a fair chance of gaining traction in the Lower 48.

Kyle Worl, head coach of Juneau’s NYO program, led a team of six players on a tour of schools in New Mexico and Kansas to promote Arctic sports. He claims they were warmly welcomed. “Every school and community we’ve gone to, they’ve been very engaged,” Worl told me, “and it’s just been fun.”

On Friday, the team visited Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. They demonstrated seven sports, including the One-Foot and Two-Foot High Kick, the Alaskan High Kick, the Scissor Broad Jump, the Seal Hop, and the Inuit and Dene Stick Pull.

Worl reports that the pupils were particularly interested in the stories behind the games and their relevance to Arctic survival.

“I think this sport resonates with Indigenous people because it’s an Indigenous sport and it’s about community,” Worl spoke. “And I think all tribes know that community is really important.”

Worl says he hopes the sport can take root at Haskell, which has two Alaskan students who can assist with coaching. The squad also left behind a kit of equipment that included a kickstand, a hand-sewn sealskin ball, and three different sorts of sticks. Worl believes the Calgary games will take place four years from now, giving new teams plenty of time to prepare for the NYO games.

He believes that teams from outside Alaska should play in the North American Indigenous Games so that Arctic sports can be recognized as an official sport.

The Juneau athletes also visited the nearby Kickapoo Nation School to plant seeds among students who are not yet in college. Worl adds the Juneau NYO team let them to try out the games for themselves, which they appeared to like.

“To be able to be in a space where your Indigenous identity is represented and honored,” he went on to say, “you feel a sense of belonging —and that you don’t have to shy away from who you are.”

The Juneau NYO crew also went to New Mexico to see the Santa Clara Pueblo Tribal School, the Santa Fe Indian School, and the Institute of American Indian Art. They returned to Juneau on Saturday and will begin preparations for next month’s Traditional Games.

This is Southeast Alaska’s eighth annual competition, which is relatively new in comparison to the rest of the state. However, Worl claims that their popularity has grown rapidly, first in Juneau and subsequently spreading to eleven other Southeast municipalities. Worl says students from Haskell Indian Nations University intend to attend.

Sealaska Heritage Institute and the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska co-sponsored the tour.

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