There’s a lot going on in Fairbanks this week, with the World Eskimo Indian Olympics, or WEIO, beginning on Wednesday and Golden Days events coming up this weekend. But the fun doesn’t stop after the Northernmost Rodeo in America ends on Sunday — the Tanana Valley State Fair starts on July 30.
After taking a year off due to the Covid-19 pandemic, WEIO returns Wednesday for its 60th anniversary with events taking place at the Big Dipper Ice Arena. There are a few events during the day on Wednesday, and the opening ceremony begins at 6 p.m. Games and competitions run for several days, until Saturday evening.
“We’re really excited,” said Mandy Sullivan, vice chair of the WEIO Board of Governors. Sullivan is particularly excited about WEIO returning to the Big Dipper after years at the Carlson Center. “It’s a nice nostalgic feel” for people who have been involved with the event for years, she said.
Making WEIO even more highly anticipated in 2021 is the fact that it didn’t happen last year.
“It’s been a long two years,” Sullivan said, but it “feels really good to be back.”
According to Sullivan, WEIO is important for both participants and the audience. Many people are involved with the event for years, making each gathering “like a family reunion,” she said. After a year of isolation, the reunion — and the return to in person events — is particularly exciting. WEIO, as Sullivan put it, is “an opportunity to celebrate life.”
WEIO is an annual celebration of Indigenous Alaskan culture. Intended as a way to preserve traditional practices, the event showcases the skill, strength and endurance that were necessary for survival in the harsh Alaska climate. While the bulk of WEIO is focused on athletic events developed from hunting techniques, it also celebrates culture more broadly. This includes fish cutting and muktuk eating competitions, story telling competitions, a craft fair, and Miss WEIO, a pageant centered around cultural knowledge.
Northernmost Rodeo in America
The weekend of Golden Days events kicks off with the Golden Days Northernmost Rodeo in America at 6 p.m. Friday at the Tanana Valley Fairgrounds, 1800 College Road. The rodeo continues on Saturday with top Alaskan contestants competing in events such as bull riding, barrel racing and team roping. Also on Saturday, there will be live music beginning at 7 p.m. with the Ken Peltier Band, followed by the group Ricochet at 8 p.m. Rodeo champions will be crowned on Sunday, after a final day of competition beginning at 2 p.m.
Golden Days festivities will take place on Saturday and Sunday this year. Organized by the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce as a way to celebrate Fairbanks’s founding, there is something for everyone at Golden Days, including a parade (which will be a reverse parade), a street fair, and a rubber duckie race.
Golden Days is about the gold mining history of Fairbanks, but it is also an “opportunity to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather,” said Jinnel Choiniere, president and CEO of the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce. Choiniere explained that Golden Days is, on the whole, moving back toward a normal event. However, there are still some changes due to the pandemic. For example, to keep the crowds down, the duck race was moved to Sunday and the fair will be spread out downtown and will last for longer. Due to a few alterations, Choiniere encourages people to check the schedule of events before heading to the festival.
The Golden Days motto this year is “Dream Golden Dreams.” According to Choiniere, the theme is “hopeful and looking toward the future.” She said they decided on “Dream Golden Dreams” in part because they wanted something lighthearted and fun after a year filled with a lot of seriousness.
“We’re just excited to see so much going on this summer and to be a part of that for the community,” Choiniere said.
The Golden Days parade begins at 10 a.m. Saturday at the fairgrounds and lasts until 1 p.m. It will be a reverse parade, meaning the floats will stay in place and spectators will drive by. As usual, the parade is gold rush- and Alaska pioneer-themed.
After the parade, people can head to the street fair, which goes from noon until 7 p.m. in downtown Fairbanks. The fair will feature over 40 booths with vendors selling various foods and wares as well as food trucks.
At 10 a.m. Sunday, 8,000 rubber ducks will be dropped into the Chena River from the Wendell Street Bridge. The first 40 ducks to reach the Cushman Street Bridge are considered winners, and prizes are awarded to the pink and yellow ticket holders associated with those ducks’ numbers.
An ongoing challenge is the Poke of Gold competition, which is essentially a scavenger hunt. Last week, the Fairbanks Chamber hid a scroll somewhere in the Fairbanks area. The Chamber will release one clue about the paper’s location per day for up to five days. Clues can be found on their Facebook page. Choiniere emphasized that, while the scroll is not in an obvious location, people don’t need to dig or move anything to discover it. The individual who presents the scroll that the poke to the Chamber will be rewarded with a gold nugget.
Tanana Valley State Fair
Looking forward to next week (and giving Fairbanksans something to look forward to next week) the Tanana Valley State Fair starts on July 30 and goes until Aug. 8. The theme of the 97th Tanana Valley State Fair is “Don’t Stop Be-Leafin.” The fair was cancelled last year due to the pandemic, so organizers are eagerly anticipating its return.
“We are hopeful that the fair brings a lot of joy and tradition back to the summer,” Mahla Strohmaier, executive director of the Tanana Valley State Fair Association, said in a statement. She continued by acknowledging that the challenges of the pandemic are not over. However, “... our staff and board are committed to putting on a Fair that celebrates our incredible community, highlights the amazing resilience we have shown over the past 15 months, and most of all demonstrates that we have so much to be thankful for now and on our way to Fair’s 100th birthday in 2024,” Strohmaier said.
Contact reporter Maisie Thomas at 459-7544.