Gender & The Games
The stated purpose of the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics is to preserve and promote traditional Alaska Native cultures. We promote our cultures by providing a venue for Native artists, athletes and dancers. However, when it comes to the preservation of traditions we find ourselves continually walking a fine line between what was acceptable in the past and the reality of living in the 21st Century and the influences of popular culture.
Those of us who were fortunate enough to have had Native elders in our life are familiar with the echo of their voices in our heads teaching, praising and admonishing us. They were and are the fierce defenders of a way of life that to some extent has already been lost. As the governing board of WEIO, we look to our elders, those we have known and lost and those who are still with us, to guide the decisions that help us to preserve tradition.
What we have learned from them is that there is a reason for the separation of some activities defined by gender. These rules of behavior were essential for survival in cultures based on subsistence in a sometimes harsh and inhospitable environment. Survival depended upon being part of a family. These customs strengthened the bonds that connected and nurtured families.
In deference to these gender roles we have limited the participation of women in events that are traditionally reserved for men. In recognition of our changing world, we sought advice from elders on a process by which women can still participate in some of these games. We were advised that in order to do so the female athletes must request permission from the men to participate in their events. This is not meant to discount or insult our women, but rather to show culturally appropriate respect to our men.