Two Inupiaq Miss WIEIO winners reflect on trust and cultural preservation

When Claire Nay entered the Miss Arctic Circle pageant in Kotzebue, she was nervous. But that hustle and bustle was nothing compared to the stress and excitement of competing in the 61st Indian Eskimo Olympics in the world.

“I grew up in Kotzebue, so the contest here was a bit nerve-wracking, but at the same time knowing everyone was watching it made it a lot easier. At WEIO, I was more nervous,” Nay said. The 18-year-old ended up taking second place and said the contest had become an experience that inspired Nay’s confidence in herself. “I feel like overall the WEIO contest really boosted my confidence.”

WEIO will run from July 13-16 in Fairbanks, with the Aboriginal contest, games, and arts and crafts contests. The event brought together contestants and audiences from across the state, including many from the North Slope and Northwest regions of Alaska.

“The celebration is always exciting because you meet so many people from all over the world,” said Corinne Danner of Utqiagvik, who won first place in the Eskimo fur badge contest and third place in the muktuk eating contest. . “There were a lot of activities that made it more fun to attend… A lot of people from Barrow went there, the Eskimo d1ance group was part of it, but I also saw and met people from New York and the ‘Ohio.”

Michelle Kaleak from Utqiagvik was crowned Miss WEIO 2022 and said that with her victory she hopes to “inspire younger generations to pursue their dreams and keep their culture close to their hearts”. Kaleak decided to enter the contest to raise awareness about the importance of Indigenous languages ​​and cultures in the everyday classroom.

“Growing up, I only had a few teachers who were homegrown,” she said. “I believe it’s important for our students to see local teachers in their school to connect with.”

Kaleak currently teaches at Fred Ipalook Elementary School and plans to return to school to earn her Masters in Education and one day become a principal. Kaleak applied to enter the Miss WEIO pageant only after completing her first year of teaching – and after making her own parka.

With the help of her mother, sister, aunt and cousin, Kaleak started sewing the parka about two and a half weeks before July 4 and finished it a few hours before the Miss Top of the World pageant, after winning it, she decided it was time. to run in WEIO.

Nay, in turn, wore a wolf-mane wolverine sun-ruffled parka, made by 100-year-old Suuyuk Lena Sours, for her Aana.

In addition to presenting traditional regalia, Miss WEIO contestants participated in the classic talent show and shared how their culture is reflected in their daily lives.

Nay shared with the public how she and her family spend time together doing subsistence activities and tending to her father’s dog team. During the talent show, Nay told children attending WEIO two traditional Inupiaq stories – Black Fish Dream by Frieda Goodwin and I Am Big by Percy Ipalook – using different voices for different characters – the way her grand- mother used to tell these stories. The day after the talent show, a girl approached Nay and told her that she liked to hear the stories, which warmed Nay’s heart.

Outside of the Miss WEIO contests, various contestants—and winners—represented the North Slope and Northwest Alaska: Frieda Kaleak and Harmony Grace Kaleak-Moore of Utqiagvik won the Eskimo Cloth contest, while Stephanie Sampson and Kelise Manuluk Sampson from Kotzebue won the Eskimo Fur competition. competition. The list continues.

Danner showcased the muskrat parka she made for her daughter’s 2020 high school graduation — and won the Eskimo Fur, Regalia Edition contest. The qupaks of the parka were made of calfskin.

“It’s very, very hard work, and I’m proud,” Danner, who is a former Inupiaq teacher, said of her win. Danner now has a sewing business, Qupaks by Corinne. “I dedicate everything I do to my beloved sister Doreen Ahgeak, who taught me how to sew. »

Other WEIO contests included native games such as head toss, torch run, and cover toss.

“My favorite part was the one-foot, two-foot high kick,” Danner said. “It’s always fun to watch them and they jump really high in the air. It gets the whole crowd cheering and energized.”

The cover throw was another highlight for Danner, who is also one of the women who sew skin boats.

“Being a skin sewer really means a lot,” she said. “And I’m just glad to see that they’re using coverage for something else, which is always exciting to watch – coverage throwing.”

Nay said she enjoyed watching the matches because many of them were unfamiliar to her.

“I was really excited to watch WEIO games because some of the games they play during WEIO were games I had never seen before – like dropping the bomb,” she said. “The ear draw was the favorite.”

But the biggest benefit for Nay was still the confidence boost the Miss WEIO pageant had given her.

Earlier this summer, Nay was browsing social media and saw a post with photos of her and other local Northwest Alaska pageant contestants with a note, “I wish I looked as pretty as these girls.” Nay said she assured the poster that she was pretty, but she also told him that building trust is time-consuming work, especially in a small village where the judgment of others is more palpable.

“I really think it’s hard for young women and just girls in general to be confident,” she said. “After the pageant, I was like, ‘Heck yeah, I’ve gained confidence, and no one should say otherwise. And I feel like every woman should have that right – It shouldn’t be removed or carried away by someone the judgment of another.”

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