The North American Indigenous Games have kicked off in Halifax: Here’s all you need to know

Click to play video: 'Athletes, coaches, and staff arrive in Halifax for North American Indigenous Games'
Athletes, coaches, and staff arrive in Halifax for North American Indigenous Games
WATCH: Thousands of athletes hailing from 756 different nations landed in Halifax this weekend in preparation for the North American Indigenous Games. Vanessa Wright report – Jul 16, 2023

The largest Indigenous gathering and multi-sport event to be hosted in Atlantic Canadian history kicked off on Saturday, as an opening ceremony for the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) will be held at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax to a sold-out crowd on Sunday evening.

The 10th edition of the event, which runs until July 23, features more than 5,000 athletes hailing from 756 nations throughout the continent.

The nine-day showcase, which highlights a variety of cultural activities to complement 16 individual sporting competitions, will mainly be held in Kjipuktuk (Halifax), with additional events taking place in Dartmouth, Millbrook First Nation and Sipekne’katik.

The first competitions kick off on Monday with cultural events taking place at the Halifax Common throughout the weekend.

The most talented young athletes from a wide range of cultural and geographic backgrounds will go head-to-head in their respective sports, including soccer, basketball, baseball and wrestling.

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Click to play video: 'The Countdown is on to the North American Indigenous Games in Nova Scotia!'
The Countdown is on to the North American Indigenous Games in Nova Scotia!

Three traditional Indigenous sports will be on display as well, as spectators will be treated to 3D archery, box lacrosse and canoe/kayaking competitions.

“Indigenous people have been playing games since Creation. Whether it’s stickball, games of endurance, games of chance or ceremonial games, there has always been a strong link to the land, water, air and spiritual connection to the Creator,” the official NAIG site stated.

Venues that will serve as hosts to the week’s competitions include the Halifax Common, Lake Banook, Dalplex, Point Pleasant Park and the Canada Games Centre.

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All sporting events are open to the public. Event times and locations can be found by checking the tournament’s schedule.

Fiona Kirkpatrick Parsons, the chair of culture for the Games, said the organization originally put out a call for 3,000 volunteers in preparation for the event. To their surprise, more than 4,000 people registered and will now assist with the programming.

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“The overriding feeling is complete and utter excitement,” she said during a June interview with Global News Morning.

“Everyone is completely ready for these games. We’ve been ready since 2020,” Parsons said, referencing the original 2020 date that was postponed due to restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was tremendously disappointing when we had to postpone back then but we definitely have taken it to heart and we’ve added a few flourishes that we might not have time to do before.

“Really enhancing that participant experience is what it’s all about for us.”

On Saturday, the Halifax Common transformed into the Mi’kmaq “cultural heart” of the NAIG, as the event’s “cultural village” opened to the public. Running until July 22, the area will be home to wigwams, marketplaces, food trucks, a space for a sacred fire and cultural demonstrations, and live music.

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Performances from popular local acts like City Natives, Morgan Toney and Neon Dreams will be heard at the Common’s main stage throughout the week.

Drum-making, basket-weaving, sacred medicines and storytelling are just some of the many activities and presentations included as part of the cultural schedule.

In addition, festivities will take place at Dartmouth Crossing and on the Halifax Waterfront throughout the event’s duration. Performances, vendors, interactive activities and cultural demonstrations will be reoccurring from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. daily at both locations until July 22.

The cultural festival on the Halifax Waterfront is hosted by the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre.

The games will also be live-streamed on the NAIG’s official YouTube channel for those who aren’t able to attend in person.

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Following a week of sporting and cultural entertainment, a closing ceremony will be held at the Halifax Common’s cultural village on July 21 at 8:30 p.m.

Unlike the opening celebration, the closing ceremony is a free and non-ticketed event that is open to all members of the public. The evening’s lineup will feature live music and cultural performances intended to celebrate the athletes and volunteers who contributed to the nine-day event.

Nova Scotia’s First Nation athletes have previously competed in four NAIG events, earning a total of 82 medals, with 18 of those being first-place honours.

In 1990, the first North American Indigenous Games took place in Edmonton, where about 3,000 athletes and performers from First Nations throughout Canada and the U.S. travelled to participate.

Since then, eight tournaments were successfully held, with the most recent being hosted in Toronto in 2017. The majority of NAIG competitions have been hosted by Canadian cities and First Nations communities.

The event is governed by the North American Indigenous Games Council, which comprises 26 representatives from 13 Canadian provinces and territories and 13 regions in the United States.

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