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Birth of the Artic Winter Games

With events like "knuckle hop", "ear pull" and "sledge jump", the Arctic Winter Games are more than just another international athletic competition. The best of the North compete in ancient native games alongside hockey and curling as part of the biannual event. The Games began in 1970 as a way for folks living north of the 55th parallel to compete on their own turf. It has since evolved into a sporting and cultural extravaganza where throat singers and dog mushers help preserve the distinct northern way of life.

In 1967, Cal Miller is in Quebec City for the first Canada Winter Games and he can't hide his disappointment. The financial advisor to the Yukon team has just seen the more experienced southern athletes outplay his athletes from the North. It's a sentiment shared by Stuart Hodgson, the commissioner of the Northwest Territories, and Yukon Commissioner James Smith. Over a Coke they lament their teams' dismal performance when Miller gets an idea -- "the best idea since the invention of 7-Up," he recalls in this CBC Radio interview.

Miller suggests creating their own games for the North. It would provide a forum where athletes from the "circumpolar North" could compete on their own terms, on their own turf. Hodgson and Smith, as well as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Arthur Laing, love the idea. A phone call later and the Governor of Alaska Walter Hickel is also on board. Together they form the Arctic Winter Games Corporation and get to work. 
• Northern athletes had little chance against southern athletes in the Canada Winter Games, said Stuart Hodgson. The commissioner of the Northwest Territories was watching his team compete in badminton when he had to leave for a moment. By the time he returned the match was already over. "We just weren't in the same league," he said. "Our people did it as a sport, whereas the people in the south had sponsors and everything under the sun backing them up."

• The first Canada Winter Games was planned to coincide with Canada's 1967 Centennial celebrations. It is held every four years.
• Arctic Winter Games Corporation was created in January 1968, marking the formal beginning of the Games. In 1992 the Arctic Winter Games Corporation changed its name to the Arctic Winter Games International Committee to reflect the increased international participation.

• The Northwest Territories, Yukon and Alaska were the original three regions to participate in the Arctic Winter Games. Arctic Quebec competed on and off from 1972 to 1986. It resumed its participation in 2000. Team Alberta North joined in 1986. Greenland and Russia have participated since 1990.
• Circumpolar refers to the area around or near one of the earth's poles.

• In the 2002 Arctic Winter Games, Team Alaska sent the largest contingent — 324 participants. Team Chukotka, located in the far northeastern part of Siberia in Russia, sent 56 participants — one of the smallest contingents.
• The Arctic Winter Games is funded regionally and federally. For the 2004 Games in Wood Buffalo, Alta., Sports Canada contributed $500,000 to assist with organization and travel.
Medium: Radio
Program: Our Native Land
Broadcast Date: March 16, 1974
Guest(s): Cal Miller
Host: Johnny Yesno
Duration: 2:16

Last updated: February 2, 2012

Page consulted on February 26, 2014

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