LET THE GAMES BE­GIN!

Toronto wel­comes In­dige­nous ath­letes from across North Amer­ica

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - JAREN KERR STAFF RE­PORTER

A dancer per­forms at the open­ing cer­e­mony of the North Amer­i­can In­dige­nous Games at the Aviva Cen­tre on Sun­day evening. More than 5,000 young ath­letes from Canada and the U.S. will be com­pet­ing in 14 sport­ing events.

In­dige­nous ath­letes from across the con­ti­nent con­verged on the Aviva Cen­tre in North York on Sun­day to kick off the North Amer­i­can In­dige­nous Games, which are be­ing held in Eastern Canada for the first time in 25 years.

It was hard to spot an empty seat on open­ing night, where an en­thu­si­as­tic crowd did the wave, cheered and smashed to­gether bat­ting sticks.

Ath­letes from each team marched around cen­tre stage, proudly wav­ing their flags.

Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas and A Tribe Called Red were among the en­ter­tain­ers.

The Cana­dian an­them was sung in English, French and Anishi­naabe. The crowd roared with ap­proval at the ren­di­tion in the In­dige­nous lan­guage.

“This is how our peo­ple should al­ways be,” said Stacey LaForme, chief of the Mis­sis­saugas of the New Credit First Na­tion.

“Happy, proud and ready for the fu­ture.”

Since1990, In­dige­nous com­peti­tors be­tween the ages of 13 and 19 have taken part in the show­case that cel­e­brates their her­itage and ath­leti­cism.

More than 5,000 ath­letes from Canada and the United States will take part, in­clud­ing about 450 rep­re­sent­ing On­tario.

“I know all the ath­letes, when they ar­rive, they’re in their shell,” said Wes­ley Mars­den, spokesper­son for Team On­tario. “But to­wards the end of the week, medal or not, they’re pretty pumped about the new friends they’ve made and all the new mem­o­ries and con­nec­tions.”

Jo­ce­lyn Chee­choo, gen­eral manag- er for the host prov­ince, com­peted mul­ti­ple times in volleyball and track and field in her youth. She fondly re­mem­bers run­ning on the same track Amer­i­can great Carl Lewis ran on, and is ex­cited for the ath­letes to com­pete on a track graced by Cana­dian sprint sen­sa­tion An­dre De Grasse.

Chee­choo added that In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties wel­come some pos­i­tive me­dia cov­er­age.

“Our youth and some of our coaches . . . are do­ing some re­ally amaz­ing work in our com­mu­ni­ties. We’re not the tragedy as of­ten as it is por­trayed in the me­dia,” she said.

“We do have some re­ally re­silient and very strong youth in our com­mu­ni­ties, and I think that’s what we’re go­ing to see.”

Ta­nia Cameron, a co-or­di­na­tor for Team On­tario, be­lieves that “sport is go­ing to bind all of our com­mu­nity to­gether (this week).”

Cameron, who has four chil­dren com­pet­ing in the games this year, added that the show­case will help the coun­try hon­our the rec­om­men­da­tions of the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion.

“I do ap­pre­ci­ate and rec­og­nize that both Canada and On­tario have been mak­ing strides to­ward rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with our na­tions, and part of the TRC rec­om­men­da­tions is rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in sport . . . these are good steps to­ward rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.”

Cameron’s daugh­ter, Rachel, who will com­pete in bad­minton, said: “It’s ac­tu­ally em­pow­er­ing watch­ing all the youth at the open­ing cer­e­monies. It’s like: Wow! There’s a lot of Abo­rig­i­nal youth play­ing sports here.”

Ath­letes will com­pete in14 sports in and around the GTA un­til Sun­day. Ad­mis­sion for all events is free.

RICHARD LAUT­ENS/TORONTO STAR

RICHARD LAUT­ENS/TORONTO STAR PHO­TOS

Mem­bers of Team Yukon share some laughs and cheers prior to the cer­e­mony that be­gan the North Amer­i­can In­dige­nous Games in North York Sun­day.

Kayson Bruised­head, 6, from Tsui T’ina na­tion near Cal­gary, waves a flag as ath­letes gather out­side of the sta­dium at York Univer­sity on Sun­day for the begin­ning of the North Amer­i­can In­dige­nous Games.

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