Northland student to perform Northern Games at Olympics
ASHLAND -- Noel-Leigh Cockney, a sophomore at Northland College, is in Vancouver, British Columbia for the Winter Olympics and he's there to do more than just watch. Cockney, an Inuit native of Canada, will represent the Northwest Territories in an exhibition of the Northern Games, a series of traditional strength and balance competitions from the Canadian Arctic. Cockney was one of six people chosen to demonstrate the games after he participated in the Circumpolar Northern Games, hosted this past summer in his hometown of Inuvik, Canada.
"The games focus on balance, strength, and endurance," Cockney said, "We will be demonstrating the one-armed reach, the Alaskan high-kick, the arm-pull, musk-ox wrestling, two-foot high-kick, and one-foot high-kick," he said. In addition to performing the games and traditional songs and dances at the Olympics, he and the other athletes participating in the exhibition will give demonstrations at Northern Place in downtown Vancouver, a museum for the arctic cultures. They will tell stories, demonstrate the games, and answer questions about arctic cultures.
He added, "Our last performance will be in the athlete's village, where we will be able to interact with the Olympic athletes, show them these games, and tell them about our culture." Cockney said it would be "amazing" if the Northern Games eventually became a competitive event in the Olympics. "I'm glad we have the opportunity to show the world these games."
The Northern Games were traditionally played in the winter to pass time and to keep in shape for traveling, hunting, and gathering food in the summer. "Every type of game focuses on a different part of your body," Cockney said, "It's how we survived up there, by building up our muscles and our endurance."
But, like other Native cultures, their traditions were nearly lost when white fur traders came to the Territories. "They tried to strip away our language, the way we hunt, and our games," Cockney said. The tradition of the Northern Games was nearly lost, but they were revived about fifty years ago by Edward Lennie, who recruited young people to learn the games and preserve them for future generations.
To see a video of Cockney demonstrating some of the Northern Games at Northland College go to northland.edu/video and watch "Olympics-Northern Games."