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Junior Native Youth Olympics return in person

The 2020 Junior NYO Games
Photos by Samuel Lynn Nothstine
The 2020 Junior NYO Games

The Junior Native Youth Olympic, grades one to six, is having its first in-person competition since 2020 in Anchorage this week.

The NYO games feature nine events, based on activities that were originally used to maintain fitness for subsistence practices in both Alaska and other northern areas in the world.

Adele Villa is an Inuk woman and is the NYO coordinator for Cook Inlet Tribal Council, which hosts the games.

Adele Villa at the last in person NYO event.
Permission to use given by Adele Villa
Courtesy of CITC
Adele Villa at the last in person NYO event.

“Our Alaska Native youth games really create that connectedness, especially to their culture," Villa said. "It’s very important to our people."

The Native Youth Olympics has been celebrated for more than 50 years as an opportunity for children and teenagers to celebrate culture, gain self-confidence and physical strength, and learn about sportsmanship.

Villa said sportsmanship is one of the most powerful themes in NYO.

“It’s a competition, yes, but at the same time you’re not competing against the person next to you," she said. "You’re competing with yourself."

Villa said that post-COVID, there has been a decline in teams and athletes, but this doesn't mean there's a lack of interest.

"It has to do with finding coaches, who can take on the program, or those schools also finding physical education teachers,” Villa said.

As it stands, there are no specific certifications to teach JNYO or NYO events.

To give people the opportunity to learn the games, even without proper teachers and coaches, CITC has created videos that are available on their Facebook page to help young people and coaches. Parents also learn about the events and teach their children and teams the games.

In the spring, older students from the seventh to the 12th grades, compete in the statewide Senior Games.

You can watch the games at the Seawolf Sports Complex at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The Junior Olympics run from February 24th through the 26th. There is no platform that is live-streaming JNYO.

Hannah Bissett is a Dena'ina woman who is currently enrolled at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Hannah is pursuing an International Studies degree and is president of two student organizations on campus.