Clockwise from top left: Nora Hodsdon, Faith Barnes, Chris Belgarde, Jessica Weaver, and Shannon Phillips work on NVE’s team banner. Photo by Rob Ammerman for The Cordova Times

This past weekend athletes sponsored by the Native Village of Eyak (NVE) were in Anchorage for the 2024 Native Youth Olympics.  

Under the tutelage of nine-year coach, Nick Tiedeman, 11 Cordovan participants joined hundreds of other athletes from around the state to participate in traditional Native games. These games consist of 12 events, including but not limited to the Alaskan high kick, wrist carry, stick pull, and scissor broad jump.   

Ninth grade student athlete Gunnar Davis, from Cordova High School, has been competing in the games since second grade. He explains that his event, the wrist-carry, is designed for lighter people. He says that the event requires “a strong core, lots of planks, and a high pain tolerance.” But for all of the training and discipline that’s required, he recognizes that NYO is largely about community. When asked what he’s looking forward to about the competition, Davis said, “meeting lots of neat people.” 

Tiedeman says that in NYO everyone is there to see each other succeed.  

“Respect is number one. It’s community driven. The kids, coaches, elders, referees, are all there to help and offer guidance,” Tiedeman says.  

Though athletes are rewarded for their efforts, NYO is one of those sports where participants ultimately compete against themselves. 

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It’s the same for the Junior Native Youth Olympics (JNYO). In February, a team of 19 — out of 44 active participants from grades first through sixth — had the opportunity to compete at JNYO in Anchorage. Shannon Phillips, Family Program Assistant for NVE, said that their JNYO team had many athletes hit personal records at the games.  

In the awards, Evelyn Smith placed 3rd in the girl’s wrist carry, Teague Webber placed 2nd in the boy’s wrist carry, Wesley Sheridan placed 3rd in the boy’s Eskimo stick pull, and Sierra Westing placed 2nd in the Alaska High Kick, 3rd in the one-foot-high kick, and 3rd in the scissor broad jump. 

One would hope for a similar showing by the senior athletes, but what Tiedeman is really excited about is the Best Banner award.  

“That’s the one I want to win,” he says.   

And this year, NVE will present a multi-generational collaboration.  

This year’s team banner has been a labor of love. Jessica Weaver, Family Program Coordinator for NVE, says that the project has been driven by their “core ladies.” NVE elders Mary Babic, Nora Hodsdon, Faith Barnes, and Chris Belgarde planned, felted, sewed, and beaded a piece that displays Cordova through its lofty peaks, athletic youth, and deep-rooted culture. Mark King, Bob Ladd, and Mike Webber added additional touches to the banner, like ornamental deer hooves, a carrying case, and a carved paddle handle. The list of volunteers for the banner’s creation includes seven tribal member elders, five adult members, five youth members, and three employees of NVE. As Phillips says when she describes the banner’s process, “It takes many hands.” 

When the Alaska Airlines Center fills with participants and volunteers from around the state this week, NVE’s team of athletes will be ready. This year they are taking a specially scheduled ferry to make it in time for the Grand Entrance. Once there, NVE’s team will showcase their athletic skills and the banner their community helped create. 

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