The North American Indigenous Games are underway in Halifax from July 15 to 23.
Events are being held at 21 different venues across Halifax, Dartmouth, Millbrook First Nation and Sipekne’katik (Indian Brook or Shubenacadie First Nation).
This is the first time the Games – also known as NAIG – have been held in Mi’kma’ki.
“You can do anything in the world, as long as you put your mind to it,” said Jordanson Nash, a member of Team Ontario from the small First Nation of Animakee Wa Zhing No. 37.
“I’ve never been to Halifax,” added the 18-year-old. “So this a very exciting opportunity for me.”
The Games kicked off Sunday with a high-energy opening ceremony.
Organizers say more than 5,000 athletes and 10,000 spectators were in the stands of the Scotiabank Centre.
“It will just be amazing,” said Dianne Acker, who was there to support two family members competing the Games.
“Just to watch all of these young people be together. Yeah, that’s going to be amazing.”
Athletes in their team gear waved to spectators as they paraded through the arena. Many Indigenous leaders, politicians and dignitaries were on hand, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“So, yes, over the coming week, we will be celebrating your athletic achievements,” Trudeau told the athletes in a speech.
“We will be celebrating the wonderful competitions and the camaraderie that happens at these Games. But mostly we will be celebrating the strength, the power, the achievements, and the presence and identity and culture and the future that you represent.”
Chief Norman Bernard of Wagmatcook First Nation also praised the young people, and offered some advice.
“Each time you step onto the field, court or arena, remember who you are,” he said, “where you come from, and who you represent: your family, your community and your nation.”
A sacred fire was lit to burn throughout the Games.
It also marks the location of the cultural village in Halifax Common.
“It is the single largest multi-sport and cultural event in Atlantic Canada’s history… since contact,” said Fiona Kirkpatrick Parsons, chair of NAIG 2023.
“Honestly, it’s a very overwhelming thought to think there hasn’t been a gathering this large of Indigenous Peoples here in Kjipuktik (Halifax) in modern history.”
The Games are usually held every four years and alternate between Canada and the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the 2020 Games until 2023.
“To have people come in from all across Turtle Island,” noted Kirkpatrick Parsons. “From as far away as California, Yukon, Nunavut, Nunatsiavut, Florida … all parts in between.
“It’s amazing to think that coming here, all these youth – ages 13-19 – are here to meet against each other. To compete against each other. And make friends and share culture.”
George (Tex) Marshall is the president of the 2023 Games Host Society.
“They are going to learn a bit about our language,” he said. “They have obviously learned about ceremony with our sacred fire.
“We are also going to have displays of our traditional games known as Waltas. That game has been with us since time immemorial.
Organizers say there are members of 756 Indigenous nations competing in 19 sports.
One of the first sports to take to the field was soccer.
“I’m super happy to be here,” said Garrett Flet of Team Alberta. “I was really excited when I found out there was even a chance that I could come to this, and happy to be a part of my culture – and who I am, and do it playing a sport I love.”
The prime minister even got in on the action.
He paddled across Lake Banook in Dartmouth Monday morning with Mi’kmaw chiefs and athletes in a war canoe.
Banook is Mi’kmaw and means the first lake, part of a waterway that was once a trading route.