At the Midnight Sun Festival Thursday, Nome’s Native Youth Olympics (NYO) Games brought together competitors from Nome, the Bering Strait Region, and other states.

Events like the One-Foot High Kick were held on Front Street as part of the NYO Games. After being held online last year due to Covid-19, the games were back in person including competitors from the villages surrounding Nome. Lauryn Garnie brought a group of young athletes from Teller.

“I’m from Teller but Bridie Green; she organized this, invited Teller to come over, so we brought a van-load of kids. There’s fourteen total, three adults and the rest are kids.”

– Lauryn Garnie

Beyond Nome’s Midnight Sun Festival, the NYO Games hold special significance for Alaska Native youth. NYO is a celebration of their heritage and a familiar part of daily life in Western Alaska. Garnie describes how NYO is incorporated into the culture of Teller.

“During the school year, 7th grade on up can join the regional competition for NYO games but every Christmas at Teller we play games, traditional Native games, for a week long to celebrate Christmas to New Years” 

All NYO games hearken back to Alaska Native hunting traditions. Each event is designed to teach a specific skill needed during a hunt. Hunters had to be precise in their movements and sure of foot, a skill emphasized in the NYO’s Scissor Broad Jump event. Dori Sherer, a last minute competitor, describes the initial steps to this jump.

“You had to start on two feet, jump off two feet; [the event host] explained it like hopscotch, and then you jump off two feet and you land on your right foot.”

– Dori Sherer

Garnie says although the hunting practices NYO teaches are not typically used anymore, the joy that they bring the competitors and spectators is alive and well. The sense of community and cultural pride surrounding NYO is palpable even to visitors of Nome. Sherer, a newcomer from Indiana notes.

“I didn’t really know what to expect but I love how close everyone seems and it’s like a nice community and it’s really cool that they were so accepting and wanting participants.”

Nome’s Midnight Sun Festival also included Native dances, a blanket toss and the Midnight Sun Festival parade. The 2021 celebration concluded on Sunday.

Image a top: Nome Midnight Sun Festival during the Saturday Parade. Photo by Catherine Rubano.