Thousands of athletes arrive in Halifax for North American Indigenous Games

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

Thousands of the continent’s most talented Indigenous athletes arrived in Halifax this weekend in anticipation of the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG).

The 10th edition of the event, which runs until July 23, features more than 5,000 athletes hailing from 756 different nations. With cultural events and an opening ceremony providing the weekend’s sole entertainment, the Games’ competitive element kicks off on Monday as the initial sporting events take place.

Dozens of practices were held throughout the city on Sunday, as players, coaches, and staff geared up for a lengthy week of competition.

Jaidin Knighton, an athlete representing team BC, said although she’s excited to play basketball, she’s hoping to get a few things settled first.

“For right now … it’s jet lag and trying to get situated in our dorms,” she laughed, as she added that she’s looking forward to participating in Sunday’s opening ceremony before her team’s first match against Wisconsin on Monday.

Story continues below advertisement

Rachael Sam, Knighton’s teammate, was still processing the magnitude of the moment when she arrived at the court for Sunday’s practice.

“I’m still kind of in shock honestly,” she said.

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.

Hunter Lang, a first-time assistant coach for one of British Columbia’s girls’ softball teams, said the tournament holds a greater significance than just acting as another sporting event.

“It’s also about uniting Indigenous youth from all over Canada and the U.S. and it’s important to these girls because a lot of them have different backgrounds,” she said, adding that many of her players met for the first time when they began practicing as a provincial team.

Hunter Lang speaks during a practice with her team on Sunday. Vanessa Wright

“Whether they’re urban Indigenous or they live in rural communities, it’s great that they all get to meet because they’ve played against each other before in tournaments … but they never knew each other, never knew that they were Indigenous or that they shared something in common,” she said.

Story continues below advertisement

“Seeing them all make really lasting friendships, that they’re going to keep for the rest of their lives, is awesome to see.”

“I’ve been able to learn so much”

A “cultural village” featuring wigwams, marketplaces, food trucks, and live music opened to the public on Saturday, with an opening ceremony to be held at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax to a sold-out crowd on Sunday evening.

Shaye Kemball, another softball coach from Manitoba, said although she’s competed in previous tournaments, the North American Indigenous Games experience is offering her something a little closer to home.

“Being able to dive into my culture has been amazing, I’ve been able to learn so much,” she said.

“Even these girls (her team), just seeing them light up yesterday at the village and buying earrings and different beadwork … it’s just been so amazing to see them step into where they come from and understanding that.”

Shaye Kemball, a coach for Team Manitoba. Vanessa Wright

Kemball said she’s been hosting weekly practices for her U-16 athletes in preparation for the tournament, incorporating “fun activities” into her squad’s routine drills to increase excitement amongst the group.

Story continues below advertisement

“This is an amazing experience for the girls … and the once-a-week practices have helped us a lot,” she said.

She said witnessing cultures being shared amongst the athletes is awesome, as her team features a wide range of Indigenous youth hailing from various reserves throughout the province.

“We’re very fortunate to be here,” she said.

Lang, who participated as a player during the previous NAIG in 2017, said she’s excited for her players to experience the opening ceremony environment on Sunday night.

Athletes will march to the Scotiabank Centre from the Halifax Convention Centre where they will gather alongside competitors, performers, and elders in a celebration of Indigenous culture in anticipation of the week’s games.

“I remember how memorable that was,” Lang said, reflecting on her experience at the last tournament. “Everyone’s wearing their ceremony jackets and different colours. It’s awesome to see everyone together all at once from each sport.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is also expected to share some words during the ceremony.

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.

Story continues below advertisement

Athletes will go head-to-head in their respective sports, including soccer, basketball, baseball and wrestling.

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

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.

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

— with files from Vanessa Wright


Sponsored content