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  • Sean Reilly

Keep Holdin' On: Dene Stick Pull Competition

The Menard Center in Wasilla was rocking today as athletes proudly marched in from all over the Arctic. They were there to represent their homes in the Indian Stick Pull competition. Each region cheered on their teammates' feet stomping on the bleachers, voices vibrating across the complex as the energy rose to a crescendo. 


In the end, for the boys, Jasper Charlie from Yukon, Canada snatched the gold ulu. Canan Joe Olverra, representing North West Territories, took the silver ulu. Aqqalu Lukassen, from Kalaallit Nunaat, won the bronze ulu and third place.


The girls' teams were as energized and as fierce competitors as the boys were. At the end of the day, Maria Aitchison representing Nunavik took first place and received the gold ulu in the girls' competition.  Followed by Myka Quist, snatching  the silver ulu for second place. Alohna Johnson won the bronze ulu for third place. It was for Team Alaska.


The Indian Stick Pull competition has its roots in the Dene people. They wanted to keep their fish-grabbing skills sharp all year. To strengthen their hand and arm muscles, they grease a stick with bear fat, to mimic a slippery salmon. These days, practitioners use Crisco instead of bear fat. They use it to slather up those sticks. It’s important to keep those muscle groups toned and ready for fish harvesting.


Competitors stand facing opposite directions, with their feet and shoulders touching each other. Then they both grasp the greasy stick. They hold on with sheer will. Their muscles tense. Their faces scrunch up. They look determined and pained. Many of the athletes look toward the heavens, for added strength. When the body gets weak, the mind gets strong! The determination to hold on a bit longer reaches its limit, enabling one to bring home the gold!

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