Let the Indige­nous Games be­gin

Mac is ath­letes vil­lage for more than 2,000 com­peti­tors in five sports around city this week

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - STEVE MIL­TON Indige­nous

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.

JOHN RENNISON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Need­ing Shog­nosh, left, and Ja­cob Kic­knosway build a wig­wam in the cul­tural area on the McMaster Univer­sity cam­pus Sun­day.

PHO­TOS BY JOHN RENNISON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

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.

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