Indigenous Peoples Day in Olympic form in Zurich | Polarjournal
NONAM Zurich invites you to the Indigenous Peoples Day. The event will feature Native American Nations guests from North America, such as world hoop dance champion Tony Duncan and his son Naiche, flute player Allan Demaray and guests from the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nations of North and South Dakotas. Photo: Jonathan Labusch / NONAM

This Sunday, June 23, the North American Native Museum (NONAM) in Zurich will celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day with a program featuring Inuit Olympics and some raven stories.

As we celebrate the summer solstice today, which also marks Greenland’s national holiday, as well as Canada celebrating its First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples, Zurich’s NONAM is also organizing an Indigenous Peoples Day this Sunday. While the program will focus on Native American cultures, the Inuit will also be present. 

“The fact that countries like Canada honor and respect Indigenous peoples is an important topic, including for us,” notes NONAM Director and Chief Curator Heidrun Löb. “Many people still think of Indigenous nations as nations of the past, frozen in History. They are not aware that they are in fact very much alive and still celebrating their traditions, history, cultures and survival.” 

While last year’s NONAM presented Arctic Indigenous populations, with the presence of Sami and Inuit artists from Nunavut, the 2024 edition will focus in particular on the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nations from North and South Dakotas.

However, Arctic Indigenous populations are not to be outdone, as NONAM will be offering an afternoon of Inuit Olympics. This is an opportunity for visitors to discover and learn about the games and sports of the peoples of the Far North, such as the Two Foot High Kick or the Seal Hop.

Colton Paul of Alaska completing the winning jump in the men's Two Foot High Kick competion. Photo: Ethan Cooke, Arctic Winter Games 2024
Want to try the Two Foot High Kick? The Arctic Winter Games were recently held in Alaska, but they’re also coming to Zurich this Sunday. Find out more about these games that focus as much on fair-play than on physical performance. Photo: Ethan Cooke, Arctic Winter Games 2024

A way of making the link with the Olympic Games, which will kick off in Paris next month, while offering a different approach. “With this special exhibition, we’re trying to take a different look at sport,” says Heidrun Löb. “In our cultures, sport is very competitive. We do it for very specific reasons, whether to shape our bodies or to be the best in the world. For Indigenous nations, it’s more about community. Bringing people together, playing and having fun together, to get better together.” 

And the reasons for taking part in sport in Indigenous cultures don’t necessarily have much to do with building muscle or winning, but rather with acquiring valuable skills. “If you’re going to go hunting with other people, you want them to be as good as you, if not better, in case something happens to you. That’s different from our culture, where it’s all about who wins, who’s the best, who gets the gold medal.”

Opened to adults as much as to children, giving a try at Inuit games is a great way to discover a different way of doing sport, while testing your agility, strength and endurance. 

The morning’s program will also feature a story and a film specially dedicated to the raven. This emblematic animal of North American Indigenous cultures is central in many legends and tales, notably Inuit. NONAM offers the chance to discover this bird in a new light, far from Western considerations.

The raven will be in the spotlight at the NONAM. A symbolic animal in North American Indigenous cultures, it is also found in many Inuit legends as a powerful deity associated with creation and transformation. He is the bringer of light, shaping humans from mud and snow to breathe life into them and teach them to survive. Here, a depiction of a raven by renowned Inuit artist Kenojuak Ashevak. Image: Kenojuak Ashevak, Spirit of the Raven, 1979

“We have, in the museum yard, a totem pole with a raven sitting on top. The raven is very important to us because the museum was also gifted a raven story with this totem pole”, says Heidrun Löb.  “The raven has a more negative dimension in our own culture. For us, it’s associated with death, darkness, something suspicious. For Indigenous peoples, however, it’s often a cunning character, a hero, a bringer of light. It’s also a teacher who teaches us how to be, how to behave. In the Arctic, he’s often the one who tells people where to find food. Focusing on the raven is a good way to get young people and children interested in those cultures, while at the same time making them think.”

To be discovered at NONAM this Sunday, June 23. The detailed program of the day is available here: https://zuercher-museen.ch/museen/nordamerika-native-museum-nonam/indigenous-peoples-day-save-the-date-23-6-24

Mirjana Binggeli, Polar Journal AG

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