Different worlds: Games open doors to learn others' cultures

Posted: Tuesday, March 02, 2004

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta, Canada Beating sticks and shaking rattles to keep time, a group of Kenaitze Indian Tribe drummers and dancers shared their traditional songs and dances with residents at Northern Lights Regional Health Centre in Fort McMurray on Monday.

As Team Alaska's cultural delegation for the 2004 Arctic Winter Games, the group will spend the next week performing at various locations around the city and sharing the Kenai Peninsula's roots with Fort McMurray residents and visitors.

The performances will culminate Saturday night, when the group performs in front of nearly 8,000 spectators at the Games' closing ceremonies.

In the meantime, though, group members said they are enjoying the opportunity to share their heritage in smaller venues.

"Other teams show off their talents and sports. We came to show off our talents and cultural performance," said Martina VanVelzor, a 15-year-old who attends Soldotna High School.

Group members have been practicing once a week for the past five months in preparation for their performances at the Games, according to Ben Elachik, 16. He said he enjoys dancing and drumming with the group at home, but finds the opportunity to share his culture with others particularly meaningful.

"(It's important) to pass it on," he said.

Steven Holley, 17, agreed.

"(It's important) to learn the culture," he said. "Then more people can know it and recognize it."


James MacLean applies a maple leaf tattoo sticker to Teila Rowsell's hand Monday at a pavillion of children's activities at the Arctic Winter Games in Fort McMurray, Alberta.

AP Photo/M. Scott Moon/Peninsula Clarion

Amber Glenzel, the tribe's cultural director and tribal archaeologist, said she thought the group's first performance in Fort McMurray on Monday went well.

"It went really well," she said. "The kids did really well. They weren't nervous."

She said she is proud to have the Kenaitze group represent Team Alaska's culture at the Games.

"Besides the fact we're representing our tribe and the state of Alaska, it's important that other cultures see our songs and dances," she said. "It's a once in a lifetime experience for the kids. And it brings them that much closer to their own heritage."

But at the Games, participants in the Kenaitze group aren't just sharing their own heritage. They also are learning about other northern cultures from around the world.

Like Team Alaska, the other contingents at the Games all brought cultural delegations, who will perform throughout the week.

The performances are just one of several activities going on this week in Fort McMurray. They add a unique feature to the traditional sporting events.

Visitors to the Games have the opportunity to witness demonstrations by cultural groups the world over and performers from northern Alberta.

Saturday afternoon, for example, Penk-O'Donnell, an Irish dance group from Fort McMurray, demonstrated its skills for a gathering crowd at Peter Pond Shopping Center, the area mall.

The group, whose members have been studying Irish dance between four and eight years, frequently performs in the Fort McMurray area and competes in dance contests around the country.

Many of the group members have Irish roots and said they enjoy showing off traditional dances. But, they added, they also participate in the group for the opportunity to exercise and travel.

"It's good exercise and you make lots of friends," said Catherine Gallagher, a 13-year-old group member and national champion dancer.

In addition to the sporting events and dance performances, Games spectators also are enjoying a number of other activities as part of the weeklong festivities.

Each day, area artists and nonprofit groups share their wares in an arts and crafts fair, while Keyano College's childhood development program sponsors activities for children and their families.

Saturday, children had an opportunity to play with "mini-worlds" hands-on displays featuring some of the sports at the Games and make "shakers" to help participate in a song and story presentation.

"Part of what we wanted was to make sure it was interactive," said Hope Moffatt, an instructor at the college. "We wanted it so children can be involved, rather than spectators."

Team Alaska results

As of Sunday night, Team Alaska had earned six medals at the 2004 Arctic Winter Games, vying in a four-way tie for second place.

Sunday wins included gold medals in the open female category of the kneel jump and arm pull, events in the arctic sports division, and the junior female snow snake contest, part of the Dene games competition.

Team Alaska also brought in bronze ulu medals in the open male division of the kneel jump, the open male division of the snow snake and the open male division of the pole push, another Dene game.

Due to technical difficulties with the 2004 Arctic Winter Games results division, official standings after Monday's contests were not available as of the Clarion's deadline.

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