Team Saskatchewan athletes celebrated ahead of North American Indigenous Games

Click to play video: 'Team Saskatchewan athletes given warm send off ahead of North American Indigenous Games'
Team Saskatchewan athletes given warm send off ahead of North American Indigenous Games
WATCH: A memorable week lies ahead for hundreds of young athletes set to represent Team Saskatchewan at the 2023 North American Indigenous Games in Halifax, Nova Scotia – Jul 14, 2023

As the sound of drums and singing filled the room in Whitecap, Sask., on Thursday night, young athletes from all corners of Saskatchewan gathered with gold on their minds.

That included 16-year-old Tegan Nahnepowisk, selected to Team Saskatchewan for his talents on the baseball diamond.

“We’re going to have a great time, great experience that’s once in a lifetime,” said Nahnepowisk. “The boys are going to be buzzing, the boys are going to be buzzing.”

Family, friends and elders sent off Saskatchewan’s contingent of over 500 athletes for the 2023 North American Indigenous Games at Dakota Dunes Resort, preparing the athletes for the week-long event in Halifax.

Along with a grand entrance of the athletes, cultural ceremonies and a pipe ceremony highlighted the night with the festivities ending with a traditional round dance for those beginning competition this Monday.

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“It’s a good way to start,” said U19 baseball athlete Noah Perrin. “It gets you pumped up and ready to go. I’m not sleeping well tonight.”

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Due to the pandemic, this will be the first North American Indigenous Games held since 2017 and will bring together more than 700 First Nations communities from across the continent.

“I’m nervous but I’m very happy that I got chosen to play in my sport,” said U16 badminton athlete Alexa Morin-Robillard. “I’m just grateful for my grandparents taking me and all the people that were supporting me.”

Of the 5,000 plus athletes slated to compete in 16 different sports, U19 softball athlete Brooke Robillard is among those travelling great distances to join Team Saskatchewan.

She attended Thursday’s ceremony roughly 1,060 km away from home.

“Not a lot of people know about Dene [culture],” said Robillard. “I’m from Black Lake First Nation and it’s very far away from here. I’m glad I’m able to represent my community.”

As for the Linklater family, it will be an especially meaningful trip to Nova Scotia as five-time NAIG participant Michael will coach his son Amari in U19 men’s basketball.

“It’s awesome, I’ve been playing with him and he’s been coaching me my whole life,” said Amari. “To bring such a big group of people together and so many different cultures, you get to learn a lot about everybody.”

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Michael, a former University of Saskatchewan Huskie and Saskatchewan Rattler, added the Games are special as they intertwine sport and culture which have been cornerstones of Indigenous identity.

“Before any European settlers were here it’s how we practiced,” said Michael. “It’s how we competed, it’s how we played, culture was always a part of it. So it’s not one and the other, it’s them together. For our young athletes to be able to have this experience and see this, it’s going to be something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”

Set to walk into Sunday’s opening ceremony as one unified group, Team Saskatchewan will be showcasing their own culture to athletes from hundreds of other communites.

According to Nahnepowisk, however, their focus is also on the podium and bringing some hardware back to the Prairies.

“We’re going to try to hit some bombs, take some yard and we’re going to win some games,” said Nahnepowisk.

Team Saskatchewan has won the most total medals in the history of the North American Indigenous Games, however they’ll be looking to win their first overall title since 2008.

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