North Amer­i­can Indige­nous Games

Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, resur­gence, and youth em­pow­er­ment through sports

The McGill Daily - - Front Page - Louis Sanger Sports Writer

This sum­mer, the North Amer­i­can Indige­nous Games (NAIG) will be held in Toronto and sur­round­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, tak­ing place on the tra­di­tional ter­ri­to­ries of the Mis­sis­saugas of the New Credit First Na­tion, Mis­sis­saugas of Scu­gog Is­land, Six Na­tions of the Grand River, the Huron-wen­dat Na­tion, as well as the tra­di­tional home­lands of the Metis Na­tion of On­tario. From July 16 to 23, the Games will draw over 5,000 Indige­nous ath­letes be­tween the ages of 13 and 19 from across North Amer­ica to com­pete in 14 cat­e­gories in­clud­ing ca­noe/ kayak, box lacrosse, and ri­fle shoot­ing.

The open­ing cer­e­mony on July 16 will set the tone for the eight day long gath­er­ing in which cul­tural, culi­nary, and artis­tic events will take place along­side ath­letic com­pe­ti­tions. Ac­cord­ing to the Toronto 2017 or­ga­niz­ers, the NAIG is ex­pected to be the largest con­ti­nen­tal gath­er­ing of Indige­nous peo­ples par­tic­i­pat­ing in sport­ing and cul­tural events.

Since its in­au­gu­ra­tion in Ed­mon­ton, Al­berta, in 1990, the NAIG has been held eight times across the con­ti­nent, with teams rep­re­sent­ing their prov­ince, ter­ri­tory, state, or re­gion. The 2014 NAIG, the last time the Games were held, took place in Regina, Saskatchewan. In­ci­den­tally, Team Saskatchewan boasts the most suc­cess­ful NAIG team with six over­all team ti­tles un­der its belt. This year, teams are ex­pected from all ten prov­inces and three ter­ri­to­ries, and 13 teams from the U.S. will also be in at­ten­dance. The Games will use the venues that hosted the 2015 Pan Am and Para­pan Am Games in Toronto, as well as oth­ers lo­cated in Hamil­ton and Six Na­tions of the Grand River Ter­ri­tory, the largest Indige­nous re­serve in Canada.

More than a se­ries of games

Ac­cord­ing to pre­vi­ous or­ga­niz­ers, the NAIG aims to “pro­mote the holis­tic con­cepts of phys­i­cal, men­tal, cul­tural, and spir­i­tual growth of in­di­vid­u­als” and “demon­strates unity among Indige­nous Peo­ples.” In an in­ter­view with The Daily, Al­lan Downey, As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor at Mcgill’s His­tory Depart­ment, added that gath­er­ings such as the NAIG are es­pe­cially im­por­tant in terms of open­ing up di­a­logue be­tween youths from dif­fer­ent Indige­nous na­tions.

“With these mass [sport­ing] events you’re bring­ing Indige­nous youths from all over the place – most likely there’ll be a few teams from my com­mu­nity in cen­tral B.C.,” Downey said. “And those youths will be able to come to South­ern On­tario and see Hau­denosaunee and Anishi­naabe [the tra­di­tional ter­ri­to­ries on which South­ern On­tario is lo­cated] cul­ture, cer­e­monies, tra­di­tions, their re­galia.”

“[ These events] ex­pose [Indige­nous youths] to var­i­ous Indige­nous na­tions that they’re not gen­er­ally ex­posed to, which cre­ates an in­ter­na­tional di­a­logue,” he con­tin­ued. By “in­ter­na­tional di­a­logue,” Downey re­ferred to di­a­logue be­tween Indige­nous na­tions.

Downey also added that sport­ing events for Indige­nous youths can “en­gage youths with Indige­nous resur­gence.” Resur­gence, as a grass­roots move­ment, seeks to re­con­nect Indige­nous peo­ple with their land, cul­ture and com­mu­ni­ties. Ac­cord­ing to Downey, resur­gence for Indige­nous youth can in­volve “re- em­pow­er­ing [ their] cul­ture, cer­e­monies, tra­di­tions, gov­er­nance struc­tures, [...] lan­guages through sports.”

As an im­por­tant av­enue of ath­letic de­vel­op­ment for Indige­nous youths, the NAIG has been the cor­ner­stone of an Indige­nous sport move­ment. Aris­ing from lit­er­a­ture and ac­tivism on sports-fo­cused de­vel­op­ment, this move­ment aims to teach lead­er­ship, com­mu­ni­ty­build­ing, ini­tia­tive-tak­ing, and other life skills to Indige­nous youths through sports, ac­cord­ing to Downey. Apart from na­tional and pro­vin­cial or­ga­ni­za­tions devoted to Indige­nous ath­let­ics, cer­tain NGOS have also been in­volved in pro­mot­ing sports in Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties.

While Downey be­lieves in the nu­mer­ous health, so­cial, and cul­tural ben­e­fits of these sport­ing events and gath­er­ings, he warns that a crit­i­cal eye must be cast on sports and these de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives, par­tic­u­larly those ad­min­is­tered by NGOS.

“We don’t think [crit­i­cally] of the val­ues that are in­grained and taught through sports. [These val­ues] are ac­tu­ally very Euro­cen­tric ideas of sports­man­ship, gen­der, gov­er­nance struc­ture, even lan­guage [...],” Downey told The Daily, adding that Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties have their own val­ues as­so­ci­ated, taught, and cel­e­brated through sports. “[These Indige­nous val­ues] are very wellestab­lished and have been un­der at­tack for a re­ally long time through var­i­ous colo­nial poli­cies. Are [sports for de­vel­op­ment pro­grams] just adding to the prob­lem?”

The NAIG af­ter the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion

The 2017 NAIG will be the first edi­tion of the Games since the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion (TRC) pub­lished its find­ings two years ago about the na­ture and im­pact of the res­i­den­tial school sys­tem. Along with its full re­port, the TRC fea­tures 94 calls to ac­tion to “re­dress the legacy of res­i­den­tial schools” and “ad­vance Cana­dian rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.” Ar­ti­cle 88 in par­tic­u­lar de­mands gov­ern­men­tal sup­port for host­ing the NAIG. To make the Games more ac­ces­si­ble (par­tic­u­larly to lower in­come and ru­ral youths), this sup­port specif­i­cally in­cludes the al­lo­ca­tion of funds for “pro­vin­cial and ter­ri­to­rial team prepa­ra­tion and travel.” The aim of the call is, in the words of the TRC, to “en­sure long term Indige­nous ath­lete de­vel­op­ment and growth.”

As a trib­ute to TRC, a cen­tral com­po­nent of the 2017 Games is a cam­paign called #Team88, aim­ing to raise aware­ness about and ac­cess to sports for Indige­nous youths through com­mu­nity tours, mu­seum ex­hibits and more. An as­pect of #Team88, for ex­am­ple, is to high­light the sto­ries and ac­com­plish­ments of 88 NAIG ath­letes.

Fol­low­ing the calls made by the TRC, both the Gov­ern­ments of On­tario and Canada have pledged to help fund the Games, pro­vid­ing $3.5 mil­lion each. More­over, the CBC has also com­mit­ted to pro­duc­ing a min­i­mum of a hun­dred hours of live and on- de­mand cov­er­age, con­tent on cul­tural events at the NAIG, as well as doc­u­men­taries to high­light the ac­com­plish­ments of the par­tic­i­pants. Re­gard­ing this cov­er­age, Downey ex­pressed his heart­felt­ness for Indige­nous fam­i­lies who will be able to watch their youths com­pete.

“I’m not here to go against that, be­cause this is their ex­pe­ri­ence and that’s valid. I can imag­ine it’s ex­cit­ing. I can imag­ine my­self in that sit­u­a­tion when I was younger – it would’ve been an ex­cit­ing mo­ment,” he told The Daily.

Downey added, how­ever, that this op­ti­mism does not pre­vent him from be­ing con­cerned about the dis­course sur­round­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

“Def­i­nitely there are pos­i­tive things that are com­ing out of the TRC and [the process of] rec­on­cil­i­a­tion,” Downey told The Daily. Still, he said, one ought to be crit­i­cal about the im­pli­ca­tions of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. “I would say I’m cau­tiously op­ti­mistic but still a re­al­ist.”

Cur­rently, the NAIG Coun­cil, the body govern­ing the NAIG com­pe­ti­tions, is in the process of or­ga­niz­ing bids for the 2020 Games. Ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing non-Indige­nous peo­ple, is en­cour­aged to at­tend the Games and as­so­ci­ated events as spec­ta­tors vol­un­teers, or even spon­sors.

To find out more, you can visit www.naig2017.to.

The NAIG is ex­pected to be the largest con­ti­nen­tal gath­er­ing of Indige­nous peo­ples par­tic­i­pat­ing in sport­ing and cul­tural events. The 2017 NAIG will be the first edi­tion of the Games since the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion pub­lished its find­ings. “[Mass sport­ing events] ex­pose [Indige­nous youths] to var­i­ous Indige­nous na­tions that they’re not gen­er­ally ex­posed to.” —Al­lan Downey Mcgill Pro­fes­sor Resur­gence, as a grass­roots move­ment, seeks to re­con­nect Indige­nous peo­ple with their land, cul­ture, and com­mu­ni­ties.

Ma­rina Djur­d­je­vic | The Mcgill Daily

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