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‘Let the Games Begin!’ Gala Opening Ceremony Celebrates Diverse Cultures

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Tim Ellis/KUAC
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The 2014 Arctic Winter Games officially got underway Sunday, with a gala opening ceremony before a standing-room-only crowd the Carlson Center. A full slate of competition -- and a weeklong array of cultural events -- begins today.

The ceremony took on the feel of a rock concert, complete with laser show, as athletes from the nine regions competing in the games stepped onto the stage after being introduced by Alaska Native brothers Philip and Steve Blanchette, while a throbbing electronic beat blasted out at high volume.

“Team Greenland!”

As the athletes made their way onto the floor, many of them, like young people everywhere, began dancing to the beat…

“Team Alberta North!

It seemed the crowd was cheering more loudly with every team that was introduced…

“Team Northwest Territories!”

Some contingents were big, like the Northwest Territory’s, with 347 participants. Some were smaller, like …

“Team Nunavik-Quebec!”

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Credit Tim Ellis/KUAC
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By the time all the teams with some 2,000 participants had been introduced, the Carlson Center floor was as crowded as the filled-to-capacity seating areas.

Each contingent was escorted by athletes carrying its flag, followed by the rest waving smaller banners…

“Team Nunavut!”

Some of the flags depicted symbols of the indigenous peoples of the region. Others were national flags, like the Russian tricolor carried by …

“Team Yamal!”

One of the contingents comes from a region that encompasses the northern reaches of several Scandanavian nations …  

“Team Sapmi!”

The packed house at the Carlson gave it up for the athletes from our next-door neighbor …

“Team Yukon!”

But of course they saved the best for last, and the crowd was ready when it was time to introduce the home team …

“Team Alaska!”

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Credit Tim Ellis/KUAC
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The house filled with cheers when Team Alaska was introduced. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Gov. Sean Parnell and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell led the contingent onto the floor.

The music was mainly techno and urban, but some featured indigenous drums and instrumentals, in keeping with the games theme that blends Native and Western cultures. Like this one…

(one drum beats)

It’s entitled “Bubblegum,” by Pamyua, a Yupik group from Unalakleet…

(another drum beat)

Listen closely, and you’ll hear the seal-call…

Respect and regard for all the nationalities and cultures was a common theme for ceremony, like the games themselves.

The North Pole High School choir sang the national anthem or equivalent of each of the contingents participating in the game.

The unifying theme also was reflected in many of the remarks given during the ceremony. Like those by the Rev. Anna Frank, an Athabascan from Minto and now-retired Episcopalian clergywoman in her invocation.

“Creator, you made us in your image. Look with compassion on the whole human race. You gave us this land for our heritage. Bless this land.”

And this, from Sen. Lisa Murkowski:

“You are stepping forward. You’re representing your country, in your event. And these are the moments you look back at with great pride. And know that we share that pride with you!”

Gov. Sean Parnell also echoed the theme of unity.

“As you compete, remember a couple of things. One, when you eat, this first day or two, you’re going to be eating like teams. By the end of the week, you’re going to be eating together.”

The final unifying words were left to Wendell Schiffler, the Fairbanksan who’s vice president of the games’ International Committee and major force in bringing them back to the golden heart city. Said what all the athletes and everyone else in attendance were waiting for …

“Now – let the games begin!”

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.