Let the Indigenous Games begin
Mac is athletes village for more than 2,000 competitors in five sports around city this week
The sweet scent of burning hickory and birch curls through the corridors of L.R. Wilson Hall, dragging you by the nostrils onto the small patio behind McMaster’s Indigenous Studies offices and classrooms.
There, fire keepers from the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, are keeping a sacred fire burning 24/7 during the 2017 North American Indigenous Games, which run from the opening ceremonies Sunday at Toronto’s York University through seven days of athletic competition and culture showcasing.
The Games have attracted 5,250 athletes under the age of 19 who represent 26 regions from across North America, and speak 200 different Indigenous languages.
There are 230 competitions in 14 different sports, five of which — soccer, softball, canoe/ kayak, lacrosse and 3D archery — are being held in the Hamilton area. More than 2,000 athletes, supported by 450 local volunteers, are being housed at residences on the Mac campus, and began arriving early in the weekend.
The rest of the sports are in and around Toronto, with those athletes housed in dormitories at York and Humber College.
“It feels great seeing a bunch of Indigenous youth running around campus,” says fifth-year McMaster student Piers Kreps, an Inuit born in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., and copresident of Mac’s Co-operative Indigenous Study Students and Alumni.
“They’re just as much at home here as they are in their community, which makes me feel great knowing that they can travel across the country and feel comfortable at Mac.
This is part of their dream and just seeing them pursue something they want is something that gives all Indigenous people some sense of hope.”
This week there will be about three times as many Indigenous youth on the McMaster campus as there are registered there during the school year.
“Our kids will get to see the university atmosphere, which I think is the biggest thing to this event, along with the cultural side, because it might inspire them to go to college,” says Tim Cook, who is the Under-16 boys soccer coach for the Akwesasne-based Team New York, which comprises Haudenosaunees from across upstate New York.
Two of his players, 15-year-old twins Raven and Phoenix Conners, have aspirations to earn athletic scholarships (hockey or soccer) to U.S. universities and both are impressed so far with Hamilton.
“We have a great view of the city from our room in the dorm,” says Raven, “and it’s beautiful.”
A number of regional teams, including those from B.C., Nova Scotia and Newfoundland/Labrador, are taking advantage of the opportunity to visit Six Nations through a variety of local initiatives. Team Newfoundland/Labrador arrived late last week — after sleeping overnight in the lobby of the St. John’s airport — and spent two days training at Six Nations facilities and familiarizing themselves with the Haudenosaunee traditions there.
Badminton player Jocelin Jacque, who turns 18 next month, comes from Postville, N.L., a village of about 180 residents. She says it was a culture shock to fly into Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, then drive through the dense urban areas to reach Six Nations.
“It was huge,” she said. “Very different compared to Labrador airport.”
Her teammate, Jeremey Howell, from Nain — 360 kilometres north of Goose Bay and one of the oldest Innuit communities in Canada — will compete in four different sprints. He practises by running around the town’s baseball field, but in the Games at York, he’ll be running on a world-class synthetic track.
“It’s a big change,” says the 15year-old. “I’m used to a small town, and here it’s big.”
Greg Henhawk, a Hagersville High School teacher with the School Within a College Program in Ohsweken, educated the visiting athletes on Six Nations culture and icons such as legendary distance runner Tom Longboat, who is commemorated by a Pan-Am Games sculpture outside the Dojah youth and elders centre.
“They know a lot more about their culture than we do,” Jacque said. “The stories make us want to know more about our own culture.”
Everyone involved in NAIG is part of Team 88. It refers to the 88th of 94 calls to action that came out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It says all levels of government should ensure Indigenous athlete development and growth with continued support of NAIG.
Team jackets have the Team 88 logo on them, but many of the younger athletes don’t know much about what it signifies or the abuses and long-term effects of residential schools that the TRC dealt with.
“Some of them are starting to identify with it,” says former national lacrosse team player Winters, on the mission staff for Newfoundland/Labrador. “It’s one thing we really haven’t thrown at them yet.”
Softball player McLaren knew “a little” about the TRC and noticed the Team 88 logo on her jacket, “but I didn’t know what it was.”
The significance will become much clearer during the Games, as there is a cultural village featuring displays, elders talks, cultural demonstrations and crafts running from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday on the green space in front of Mac’s engineering building. The village will also see nightly Indigenous entertainment.
For the schedules for entertainment and competitions, both of which begin Monday, go to naig2017.to/en.
Needing Shognosh, left, and Jacob Kicknosway build a wigwam in the cultural area on the McMaster University campus Sunday.
A man on a bike stops to read a description of regalia on a display on the McMaster University campus.
An athlete with Team Washington rides a SoBi bicycle through McMaster University Sunday ahead of the North American Indigenous Games.