More than 5,000 Native athletes from Canada and the United States showcased their talents in the North American Indigenous Games event.
In case you missed the fanfare last month, The North American Indigenous Games, a gathering unparalleled in the U.S. with thousands of proud athletes representing their respective tribes in an Olympic-style setting, attracted more than 5,000 teens this year to the greater Toronto area for competition in 14 sports.
To showcase just a few of these amazing athletes, ICMN has compiled a great selection of photos from the Associated Press as well as from the The North American Indigenous Games site.
The games, held from July 16 to 23, illustrate the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s commitment to long-term Indigenous athlete development and growth. “Sports is [one] of those areas where Indigenous people are left out, excluded, forgotten about,” Mary Spencer, a former Olympic boxer from the Ojibwe nation, told The Globe and Mail.
“We don’t see enough Indigenous faces in elite sport and it’s not because there’s not enough incredible Aboriginal athletes out there, it’s because the opportunities aren’t there. [The games are] an opportunity to come together and through sport feel belonging.”
British Columbia placed first with 171 medals (62 gold), followed by Saskatchewan (166) and Ontario (137). “The games went so well and it was great to see everyone come together and have such a great time,” Alex Laliberte, Ontario’s rifle shooting and basketball coach, told The Star. “All the teams showed good sportsmanship, which is a huge reason that the games were so successful.”
Competitors were welcomed with a ceremony where each nation entered with its banner as cheers from various tribal sectioned seating roared. Keegan Charlie, a 17-year-old soccer player for British Columbia, held his team’s flag, while members of his nation drummed. “Everybody [was] looking over at us and it was something else to them,” he told The Star. “But that was just us, just our thing [drumming], we’re all taking part in that cultural [aspect], it’s pretty awesome.”
Many, like William Chippeway, gain healing through seeing the children compete in an event they, themselves, didn’t have the opportunity to do. Chippeway was a member of 10 Indigenous track athletes, called the FrontRunners, who were selected to be torch-bearers at the 1967 Pan American Games in Winnipeg.
They were supposed to carry the torch from St. Paul, Minn. to Winnipeg Stadium, only to have the spotlight stolen by a non-Indigenous runner. A documentary, titled Niigaanibatowaad: Frontrunners was shown at Toronto’s York University during the NAIG. “It’s healing for all the Aboriginal people to see their children competing,” he told CBC Canada. “It gives hope to all of us, all the Indigenous people. It affects all of us positively. The biggest challenge is for people to understand and to accept the fact that we are capable. We can teach many things.”
Events, which range from 14 and under to 19 and under, include 3-D archery, athletics, badminton, baseball, basketball, box lacrosse, canoe/kayak, golf, rifle shooting, soccer, softball, swimming, volleyball and wrestling. This year was the first time lacrosse had appeared at the event, which gave it more of an appeal, according to John Etzel, 17, of Team British Columbia.
“I’ve always thought of the game as the Creator’s game or the Medicine game, and whenever I was sad or something I’d just go outside and toss the ball against the wall and clear my mind,” he told The Hamilton Spectator.
Some, like 17-year-old Track and Field athlete Evan John (Oneida), are the stars of their tribal communities and come to the event to put their talents up against others like them. John helped Team Ontario with three silver medals in the 4×400 relay, the 200 meter and the long jump — an event he won the Ontario High School Track and Field Championships earlier in 2017.
He enjoys the networking experience, he told Running Magazine. “If I didn’t have opportunities like [NAIG], I feel as though I wouldn’t be as big as I am confidently and social-wise. It’s allowed me to connect with people across Canada.”
Cassis Lindsay, 16 of Team Yukon, practiced 16 hours a week to compete in swimming. “We’ve been training really hard up to this point,” she told CBC Canada. She exceeded her expectations with two silvers and two bronzes, stating her Yukon team “has a fighting spirit.”
Natural hunting ability brought Ryan Francis, 19 of Nova Scotia, to gold in the 19U Male 3-D Archery competition. “I wanted to hunt with [my bow], really,” he told CBC Canada. “Then I just started shooting [competitively].”
Some teams, like Ontario, have brought in former professional athletes to coach their teams. Former Pittsburgh Pirate and Chicago Cub Scott Bullett served as their coach. “I don’t think a lot of people know he is here,” Ontario team manager Earle Cottrelle told CBC Canada. “I have tried to keep it quiet but our kids and our families know and they are thrilled.”
Competitors must provide one of various identifications in order to play in the games, including (for Canada) a status card, treaty card, Inuit and Inuvialuit identification, Provincial Metis card, or (for Americans) a tribal ID or certificate of Indian blood. More than 2,000 volunteers help run the event, which featured 13 Canadian provinces and territories and 13 regions from the United States.
Here are more photographs of the North American Indigenous Games to include the opening ceremony.