News-Miner opinion: The World Eskimo-Indian Olympics returns today, and with it comes anticipation, excitement and awareness surrounding the 60th anniversary of the games.
The anticipation comes from the event’s return, which did not take place in 2020 because of the pandemic. WEIO is as intertwined with Fairbanks as much as the Chena River is — the games were first held here in 1961 — and we’re more than happy to play host to the athletes and visitors at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
The excitement comes from knowing some of the best competitors in the state will put on displays of incredible skill and talent that many of us can’t fathom accomplishing. The individual contests are representative of the skills needed to survive in the harsh climate of Alaska. The games offer a glimpse into the state’s cultures, history and heritage, all of which are on display during WEIO. Elder celebrations, traditional dance groups, regalia parades, the Miss WEIO pageant — these are just some of the parts that make up the whole of WEIO. The entirety of the event is a rich cultural and athletic celebration.
Lastly, this year, the games bring a sense of awareness. As much as we are looking forward to WEIO, we know the pandemic is not over. As evidenced by the most recent report from the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services, the state is now in the red status level regarding Covid-19, meaning transmission and cases have increased.
Organizers of the games know this, too. While there is no vaccine requirement for guests and most athletes, WEIO organizers are encouraging those in attendance to be vaccinated. For a few athletes — those participating in contests that require close contact, like the Four Man Carry or Indian Stick Pull — vaccines are required. If you’re not vaccinated, you’re asked to wear a face mask.
“We’re trying to do our part to make sure people are having a wonderful experience without getting sick or spreading it when they go back home to their villages,” Mandy Sullivan, vice chair of the WEIO Board of Governors, told the News-Miner. “We do have people that only do one event a year and are from remote areas. We’re putting their safety in our presence at a high level.”
That’s a grand effort that we applaud. The games need to return but without the worry of turning into a superspreader event that could overwhelm Alaska when participants return to their home villages. The health and safety of WEIO athletes and participants is something the organization is taking seriously, and they are right in doing so.
Now, welcome to the 60th anniversary of WEIO, and let the games begin.