Team Sask honours MMIW during NAIG opening ceremonies
- Katie Doke Sawatzky | July 18, 2017
Five thousand athletes and their friends and families gathered for the opening ceremony of the 2017 North American Indigenous Games in York University’s Aviva Centre Sunday night in Toronto.
The ceremony began with drumming and song from the host nation of the Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation and their Elder Gary Sault who, with his granddaughter, smudged the stage.
“Welcome. You’ve come far and we’ve waited long,” said Sault. “Come and sit down beside us and share in the same food that allays our hunger and let us rise together in sisterhood and brotherhood as we have in the past.”
After the greetings, the flagbearers for each team walked around the stadium while athletes cheered from their seats. Team Saskatchewan’s 500 athletes, coaches and managers cheered loudly in their green jackets when their flag was the first to enter the stadium.
“It was pretty awesome to be representing Saskatchewan, to be able to carry the Team Sask NAIG flag. It was really a cool experience and I’m happy I got to do it,” said Amanda LePage, a senior athlete originally from Debden, Saskatchewan. She’ll be competing in the 100-metre, 200-metre, 400-metre races and two relays this coming week.
LePage said her favourite thing about the open ceremony was walking around the stadium and the performances.
“It was just like an awesome atmosphere to be in,” she said.
All of Team Sask’s flagbearers were female in honour of missing and murdered Indigenous women, something LePage was proud of.
Competing with athletes from all over North America is a new experience for LePage and she’s taking it in because it’s her first NAIG but also her last. She would have played in the previous games, but she was injured.
“I’m hoping to bring back some medals for Saskatchewan and to meet new people and just see what it’s like to compete against other athletes. My main goal is really just to make Team Sask proud,” said LePage.
Remarks from chiefs and officials followed the flagbearers. The first set came from the local leadership, which included Chief Ava Hill of the Six Nations of the Grand River, Chief Stacey LaForme of the Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation, Huron Wendat Chief Konrad Sioui and Métis Nation of Ontario Senator Constance Simmonds.
All thanked the athletes for their hard work in coming to the games and recognized the support of their families and communities.
“This is the way our people should always be: happy, proud and ready for the future,” said LaForme. “Welcome to Toronto, a place of sacredness for many nations, treaty lands of the Mississauga, of the Anishinaabe and your home for the next week.”
The second set of remarks came from national leaders. After Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett addressed the crowd, Chief Perry Bellegarde talked animatedly about Canada’s recent celebration of its 150th birthday and the resiliency of First Nations people despite colonization, residential schools and Indian Act.
“We’re still here as Indigenous peoples and it’s you young men and women and your children and grandchildren that are going to rewrite the next story over the next 150 years and it’s going to bright and you’re going to do it in a great way,” he said.
Clement Cartier, president of the National Métis Council, recounted his days playing sports at residential school in Ile-a-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan.
“We tried to excel at hockey and at softball so we’d get the chance to go play the Treaty Indian kids at Beauval residential school because for us Métis it was an opportunity to finally get a good meal,” he joked. “It was also an opportunity for us to visit, to make friends and I see that happening .”
Despite being a national representative, Cartier wasn’t shy about who he’s cheering for.
“Not to be biased unlike the national chief, I must say that I’m from Buffalo Narrows in northern Saskatchewan and although I wish all athletes well, Hey! Team Saskatchewan!” he said.
NAIG 2017 CEO Marcia Trudeau declared the games open with a ceremonial flag-raising. Alongside the games’ flag is the Team 88 flag, representing Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action number 88, which calls on all levels of government to invest in NAIG and the development of Indigenous athlete development.
The athletes will play 14 sports at 16 world-class venues in the city. Nightly performances during the week will continue at cultural festivals at McMaster and York Universities.