Take time to learn and understand culture
NAIG contingents will showcase diversity
ARE IMPORTANT takeaways that those involved at the organizational level want non-Indigenous people to draw from the North American Indigenous Games.
“We’d like more people come to our cultural festivals; to come and learn,” says Marcia Trudeau-Bomberry, CEO of the Toronto 2017 NAIG Host Society.
“All participating teams were asked to bring cultural contingents here at a significant cost to them. That will showcase the diversity. Yukon, for instance, brought traditional dancers and drummers.”
The symbol of NAIG is Team 88, referring to the 88th call to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, challenging all government levels to support NAIG, and sport in general, as a bridge to healing.
“When we look to the roots of the TRC, it’s not about government and Indigenous people reconciling,” Trudeau-Bomberry told The Spectator.
“It’s something that needs wider public mobilization. It’s about opening up to wanting to learn more about Indigenous peoples.”
“Their communities, about the youth competing in these games, the challenges they’ve experienced in everyday life and how sport has helped with that and given them strength. And how their culture helps with it, too. We’ve said all along that sports and culture are intertwined.”
The Games, featuring more than 5,000 Indigenous athletes under 19 years old representing 20 regions from across Canada and the United States, opened Sunday night and conclude Saturday night. While nine of the 14 sports are being held in the Toronto area, five are being held in and around Hamilton, and more than 2,000 athletes are staying in McMaster residences.
There is a cultural festival located in green space across from the university’s engineering building, open free to the public 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, through Friday. Two different musical acts play on the main stage every night.
Showing cultural diversity can also help put a crack in the foundation of racism, Trudeau-Bomberry says, because one of the basic assumptions of racism is that its targets constitute a monolith, with the same traits and characteristics.
“It’s easily acceptable that there are a number of different nations in a continent as small as Europe, with different customs, and languages and distinct identities, with definite borders,” Trudeau-Bomberry said. “Well, the same could be said in Canada, with different cultures and identities. But there are no borders.
“When you look at the different First Nations across Canada and the United States, there are lots of different ceremonies, ways of looking of things, different value systems and spiritual life. There are some central themes, of course.”
Six Nations’ Greg Henhawk promotes Indigenous culture and, as a Grand Erie District School Board high school teacher, works with the School Within a College program in Ohsweken.
“People believe that Indigenous people have one language, that we’re all one nation,” Henhawk says. “They don’t understand the concept that we’re 800 First Nations across North America, possibly all with distinct languages, and some different belief systems.”
While there are many differences among First Nations, there are also central similarities, such as creation stories, and Henhawk says that one of the goals this week is to “educate non-Aboriginal people on the subtleties, and respect for the traditions. And it’s also about educating some of our own people who have been disconnected.
“Our people have a lot of good advice to offer, just like every other belief system or religion. But it just hasn’t been heard. I think language speaks tons about a culture. For instance, I’ve travelled every Canadian province and territory and all but three states, and I’ve never come across an Indigenous language that has a word for ‘please’.
“My grandmother explained it to me that you ask with respect, or you don’t ask. There’s no need for ‘please’. We do say ‘thank you’ and we do say ‘you’re welcome.’” There are subtle things like that. “We also have the idea that we speak with people, not at them. So this concept of governance sometimes being from above is a foreign thing to us. And it’s always been that way.”
Mississauga fire keeper Geoffrey Daybutch points to the handbook distributed to NAIG volunteers. It contains all the TRC’s 94 calls to action. (available at nctr.ca)
“Included in our package are actual facts about the residential schools,” he says. “And the first prime minister of Canada is quoted as saying the child needs to be removed from ‘the savage.’ That was the intent of residential schools.
“Volunteers are being given a brief understanding of the history and I really feel that all Canadians should take a moment to read that, too. The information is very, very vital and important for every Canadian.”
Team Ontario’s Kaitlyn Bomberry hustles to first during U16 girls softball play between Team Ontario and Team B.C. on Tuesday at Turner Park. Team Ontario won 6-0.