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Native Youth Olympics share depth of Alaska's Host Culture...

Posted: February 8, 2012 - 10:00am

In conjunction with the Peninsula Winter Games and proud sponsor Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, the Native Youth Olympics (NYO) brought to Soldotna for the first time an authentic Native Blanket Toss. Gregory Nothstine, of Inupiat decent, originally from Wales island, brought the blanket to the Peninsula from Anchorage. "It's made of several pieces of bearded seal hide pieced together with rope handles around the edges for people to grab onto and you could say it looks similar to a trampoline but really is nothing like a trampoline at all because the person being tossed has no way of determining how high they go except by the cooperative strength of the people pulling the handles," explained Nothstine in an interview with the Dispatch.

While many antidotal stories are told of the origin of the blanket toss, Nothstine believes it has always been for fun and building community, "My elder told me that it was just a fun way to toss people in the air with the skin that was used from the successful whale hunt from the boats they used in the hunt because they had to be replace anyway so they would stitch them together to toss people in the air and they would put candy on the blanket and it would fly and spread around to everyone during a time of fun and celebration. I know it's said it was to toss people so they could see farther for hunting but I don't know how true that really is I think it has always been just for lots and lots of fun," he said. The challenge for the person being tossed is to maintain their balance and return to the blanket without falling over; when they do they loose their turn.

Nothstine has been known to use the blanket toss as a community development model, "To work everyone has to pull together. The values incorporated in the blanket toss are cooperation, unity, commitment, and trust," he said confessing that on one occasion he had himself been dropped, "It wasn't really serious, but it was serious enough to let people understand that when the person being tossed comes toward your direction not to let go of the blanket and try and catch them, but to keep the blanket underneath the person to catch them much like a firemen do when rescuing jumpers. The physics lesson and object lesson here is that if people on one side of the blanket are pulling harder than the people on the other side the person being tossed will go in the direction of the people on the weak side so we have to learn to keep people pulling evenly together," he said.

Gathering 60 some volunteers from the audience Nothstine quickly had his team pulling in unison causing the blanket to produce a deep throbbing sound like a giant heart beat. "It was impressive," commented Soldotna City Manager Larry Semmens who joined the pullers, "After the successful toss, Gregory had a couple of the members drop their handles and challenged the rest to try and make the blanket again produce the sound of the heart beat. No matter how hard we pulled we couldn't produce the heart beat without the missing people. Then he said that's what happens to a community when people do drugs and alcohol, the community looses its collective heart beat. It was an impressive object lesson, I was moved, and really glad I participated. The young people and everyone there was impressed, it was an experience I'm still thinking about and am not likely to forget," said Semmons.

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