Competing, having fun and making memories is what thousands of athletes will be accomplishing this summer when they compete in this year’s North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in Halifax.
Kealand Thomas, 14, from the Cote First Nation, Sask. who will be competing in baseball for Team Saskatchewan at NAIG is looking forward to experiencing this huge sporting event that brings thousands of athletes together to compete in 16 different sports.
“It’s an honour and (it’s) a blessing and it’s very special to me for making the team,” said Thomas. “It’s really important to me (because) it’s a big role making the team … it feels good.”
Thomas has been an active baseball player since the age of four. He has competed in AAA ball since he was 11 years old and to this day, he practices three times a week to put all the well-deserved training in for his team. Thomas hopes this experience will be a stepping stone for his future.
“I see myself playing ball in the States (and) going to university to play college ball,” he said. “I want to get my education and (play) the sport I love.”
This is the type of motivation that Mike Tanton loves to see from athletes when they experience playing in NAIG.
“I think the biggest thing is just how eye-opening of an experience and a life-changing experience that it’s going to be for the young people playing on such a high level (at) an international multi-sport event,” said Tanton.
“Our biggest success is looking at how many kids continue on after this and use this as a part of their journey and continue on with their post-secondary education and continue on giving back to their communities.”
Tanton is Team Saskatchewan’s chef de mission going on seven years now. Tanton has been part of NAIG since the mid-90s, when he started to compete in the sport of basketball. Since then, he always had an involvement in NAIG as a volunteer for Team Saskatchewan.
“We always got our butts kicked by the American teams. They really love their basketball down there,” he said. “The relationships that I have developed from that, some of them I still have now today. I’ll see some of the guys that I played with …. now our kids were playing against each other or with each other, and it’s just a full-circle moment. That kind of feels good.“
Overall, 535 people who make up Team Saskatchewan for 2023 will be going to NAIG this summer. There’s a total of 440 athletes and 95 coaches. It will cost $1.7 million to take Team Saskatchewan to the games in July.
Organizers have not met their expense goal, but they are halfway there. Tanton said Team Saskatchewan organizers are doing a huge sponsorship push to meet their budget costs.
“I’m very hopeful as well as I have a positive outlook on how things should turn out for us. And I’m hoping that we achieve everything that we need,” he said.
For further details on NAIG, visit Team Saskatchewan’s NAIG website.