Kotzebue 5

Production Date: 
ca. 1975
Northwest Arctic Television Center
Host of the Beauty Contest (not named)
Run Time: 
KYUK-TV, Bethel, AK

Named locations: Kotzebue
Major themes covered: Eskimo Olympics (women's and men's tug-o-war and trampoline); Children's Beauty Contest; Kotzebue subsistence (note the way that the children in the beauty contest, as well as their presenters, are dressed in beautiful, traditional mukluks and parkas. All of the games at these Olympics revolve around practices of subsistence and the preservation of Eskimo culture and traditions.)

Individuals Named: Beauty Contestants and their parents/escorts: Robyn and Paulina Stein; Charlie, Josephine, and Mimi Rich; Lenny and Laura Lee Thomas; Charlie, Lydia, and Sarah Curtis; Patricia Shelley Ray; Jimmy, Bertha, and Harold Booth; Lena Henry; Nelly and Colleen Jackson; Hal and Loni Lee Bernhardt; Mike, Alice, and Quinn Schaefer; Frank, May, and Christina May Sheldon; Beverly and Judy Munson; Eddie, Betsy, and Evelyn Crystal Smith; Joe, Mary, and Josephine Eric.  Contest Finalists (winner is never announced in the films):
1) Loni Lee Bernhardt; 2) Quinn Schaefer; 3) Christina May Sheldon; 4) Judy Munson
Native language spoken: Inupiat
"The games that are played by these people display the preparedness one needed for survival. They require skill as well as strength, agility, and endurance. In this manner, the people could at least teach the children that they had to be tough to make it on their own, not just in one area, but in all. The games left no part of the body untested. In the past, whenever there was a gathering of families or villages, there were feasts, dances, and games. Often, when these gatherings took place, a messenger was sent to neighboring villages to extend a formal invitation. Today, these
games are played during the Fourth of July and Christmas holidays. To better appreciate the background of these games, envision yourself in a community village hut three hundred years ago with the temperature outside at
60 degrees below zero, and everybody in attendance celebrating a successful seal hunt. While the young men are demonstrating their athletic prowess and strength, the umialiks, or whaling captains, are on the perimeter of the hut looking with great interest at the young adults - one or more of these young men would be incorporated into their whaling and hunting crews - the fastest, the strongest, the one showing great balance and endurance to pain would be the top pick." [retrieved from: http://www.weio.org/]

The above description of the contemporary World Eskimo-Indian Olympics provides some context for the games that the people play in "Kotzebue 5." The games in the film are a smaller version of the WEI Olympics, which have been held once a year in Fairbanks since 1961. The games featured in the film may be the preliminary stage for those hoping to compete in the larger events in Fairbanks. The WEIO events are part of the "Golden Days Celebration" in Fairbanks, which usually starts mid-July. The games in the film take place on either July 4th or July 5th. ("Kotzebue 6," which is part of a three-part series on the July 4th festivities formed by "Kotzebue 5-7," contains an interview with an old woman. She says that her birthday was yesterday, "July 4th.") As all three films are comprised of different bits of separate footage, it is difficult to discern the exact date on which each separate segment of footage was filmed.

Provenance: Ca. 1975. The song playing in the background at the beginning, "One Woman Man," by Paul Anka, came out in 1975. Thus, the film had to have been produced in 1975, or perhaps slightly later.

See also in AIFG: Kotzebue 1-4 & 6-8


  • Berman, Matthew. "Moving or staying for the best part of life: Theory and evidence for the role of subsistence in migration and well-being of Arctic Inupiat residents." Polar Geography, 32:1-2 (2009): 3-16. Print.   *This source provides a geographic perspective on Inupiat subsistence, as well asa sense of how subsistence has been preserved and transformed in the 30-40 years since the Kotzebue films were produced.
  • Burch, Ernest S. Social life in northwest Alaska: the structure of Iñupiaq Eskimo nations. Fairbanks: Univ. of Alaska Press, 2006. Print.  *This source discusses the eleven villages and describes the relationship between the different clans and families that represent the different villages.
  • Lund, Annabel and Mark Kelley et al. Heartbeat: World Eskimo Indian Olympics.  Juneau: Fairweather Press, 1986. Print.  *This source provides pictures and background information for the games that form the basis for the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics. This source also provides an account of the history of the games and the ways in which they evolved from 1961, when the games were first played, and the mid-1980s.
  • Williams, Maria Sháa Tláa, ed. The Alaska native reader: history, culture, politics. Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 2009. Print.
  • World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, Inc. World Eskimo-Indian Olympics since 1961:40th anniversary official program guide, July 18-21, 2001. Fairbanks: World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, Inc., 2001. Print.   *This provides a detailed account of the games and their evolution over the  first 40 years that they were held.

--Emily Thomas, 2013