The Haines Public Library is holding Native Youth Olympic Games practices throughout the summer. Every Thursday, kids can gather at Tlingit Park to practice things like the one-foot high kick and the Indian Stick Pull.
For some Alaska Natives, a two-foot or one-foot high kick was used to signal a successful hunt. Here in Tlingit Park, it’s a game.
“Right now we’re just practicing ability and then we’ll focus on landing,” says library education coordinator Jessie Morgan.
She’s watching a group of kids as they jump in the air and try to kick a seal-skin ball. It’s one of the Native Youth Olympic events that draws on the culture and history of Alaska Natives.
“They are traditional games that have been used to enhance strength,” Morgan said. “Nowadays it’s used for friendly competition and it encourages wellness, which is why we like it.”
The other event Morgan has set up for kids is the Indian Stick Pull.
“The Indian Stick Pull has Crisco covered on a stick where they try to pull it out of each others hands and that helps to practice fishing for salmon.”
A couple boys try the stick pull, but the event that really draws in curious participants is the high kick. Kids stop running around the jungle gym or swinging on the monkey bars to watch.
“It feels like you’re so tall you can get the ball at any height,” said nine-year-old Jackson Long. “I think it might help me in some skills like in Ju jitsu because we do some kicks and it might help me get up higher with my kicks.”
The high kick is also 12-year-old Kyle Dozier’s favorite.
“I just wanted to do it because it was super fun,” he said.
Morgan says some kids aren’t sure about participating in the Native Youth Games because they don’t know what they are.
“The game itself, they’re like ‘whoa what is that?'” Morgan said. “And they don’t really understand. But once they give it a go it’s fun. It’s fun to test yourself and see how high you can go.”
This is the third summer the library has held Native Youth Games. The past couple summers, they’ve put on a small competition on the 4th of July. Morgan says this year she plans to do a competition at the Southeast Alaska State Fair instead.
And she hopes to get more people interested, so that Haines might eventually send local students to the statewide Native Youth Olympics in Anchorage.
The library’s Native Youth Games are happening every Thursday at 2 p.m. in Tlingit Park.