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Artic games ear-pull hoopla

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.

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The ear pull and knuckle hop may be two of the most unusual Arctic sports. As described in this CBC Radio report, injuries are common due to the nature of the events. That's why organizers of the 1982 Arctic Winter Games in Fairbanks, Alaska have quietly dropped the two games. The "ear pull" involves two people facing each other with a thin strip of leather looped around the ear.

The opponents pull with their ears until the leather is freed or someone surrenders in pain. The "knuckle hop" has competitors in a push-up position, hopping forward on their knuckles and toes.
George Bennett, the head official for traditional native sports, is upset at this latest turn of events. He says these games are an important traditional way of life even if they shock a "white audience."

Bennett argues while the ear pull and the knuckle hop may seem harsh, they are much less barbaric than a sport like boxing. In response, the Games organizers promise to reconsider their decision for the next Arctic Winter Games.
• The ear pull, the mouth pull (where competitors grab the mouth of opponent and pull until one surrenders) and the ear lift (where weights are looped around the ear and the competitor walks forward as far as possible) have been phased out over the years due to health and safety reasons.
• The knuckle hop has since been reinstated and is currently (2004) part of the Arctic sports category.

• Since 1992, traditional Arctic sports have been divided into Inuit and Dene events.

• The Dene, along with the Inuit, are native to the North. The Dene traditionally lived further south in the Mackenzie Valley and Barren Grounds of the Northwest Territories.

• In 1992 five Dene events officially became part of the Arctic Winter Games. The Dene games were introduced as an effort to involve participation of Yukon and Northern Alberta First Nations. These Dene games include finger pull, hand game, snow snake, stick pull and pole push.

• In the past only men were allowed to compete in the Dene games. Women participated for the first time in the 2004 Games. The Inuit sports are open to both sexes, except for airplane, knuckle hop and head pull which exclude women.

• In the finger pull, two players pull on the other's middle finger with the aim of straightening the finger. It was used to strengthen the finger for fixing nets.

• The hand game is a gambling game used for trading in the past. Players hide tokens in their hands and the opposing team tries to guess where the token is.

• In the snow snake, participants throw a spear across the ice for distance. It was practiced for hunting caribou.

• The object of the stick pull is to pull a greased stick out of the opponent's hand. The game builds arm strength for fishing and hunting.

• In the pole push, two teams of four hold opposing ends of a 20-foot pole and try to push each other out of the ring. It was practiced for pulling canoes.

• Standard sports such as skiing, basketball, badminton, snowboarding and volleyball remain a crucial part of the Arctic Winter Games. 
Medium: Radio
Program: Sunday Magazine
Broadcast Date: March 21, 1982
Guest: George Bennett
Reporter: Heather Pullen
Duration: 1:53

Last updated: March 17, 2014

Page consulted on November 26, 2014

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