Saskatchewan athletes excited to finally compete again
- Eagle Feather Staff | July 17, 2023
Hundreds gathered at the Dakota Dunes Resort for an extra special pep rally for Team Saskatchewan's 500 athletes before they made the trek to Halifax for the return of the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG).
No one was more pleased with the send off than Saskatoon-resident Glenn LaFleur who is also the Metis representative and co-chair for the team.
“It's an opportunity for them to go out and compete and meet people,” he said after Thursday’s rally.
LaFleur speaks from experience having been involved with NAIG since 1993.
“I think it's an opportunity to develop your leadership skills when you involve yourself in sports and community events,” he said.
The 2021 games were postponed until now because of the global pandemic and as a result many of Team Saskatchewan's experienced athletes aged out.
"There's lots of anxiety right now," said LaFleur. "We have a younger group. And it seems like there's lots of butterflies, but I think they will do well.”
The team was sent off with guest speakers, powwow performances, music and prayers for a good experience.
NAIG kick off today in K'jipuktuk in Halifax, N.S and will run until July 23rd. More than 5,000 participants from 750 communities were expected to attend making it the largest multi-sport and cultural event ever held in the region.
“I just want the kids to have a really good experience and come home with some good stories that they can share with their family and community,” said LaFleur.
One of those kids is 16-year-old Mackenzie Naytowhow from Montreal Lake Cree Nation.
The basketballer is looking forward to “just seeing the different cultures.”
There will be teams from across Canada and the United States ready to compete for the top spot.
“We’re all really excited,” said Naytowhow about her team. “We just came back from winning the provincials, so it’s a good way to start off Halifax. I think we’re all pretty pumped.”
She was happy to be part of this year’s team because she comes from a long-line of athletes.
“It’s a big opportunity for everyone,” said Naytowhow. “My mom, my uncles and all my grandpas…went to NAIG.”
Her sentiments were echoed by her mother Bianca Sanderson.
She said Naytowhow has been involved in sports her entire life and enjoys travelling and meeting people.
Sanderson remembers the hype surrounding the games, having been part of Team Saskatchewan’s volleyball team as a youth.
“It's just really exciting,” she said about the games. “I think it really shaped me as a young person being on an Indigenous team. Learning about our culture, meeting other people from different areas and connecting with them.”
Sanderson said she is rooting for her daughter’s team to return with gold.
Seth Piska from Beardy’s Okemasis Cree Nation is the goalie for the U19 Soccer team said he was looking forward to being on the field.
“(It’s) bigger competition than what I'm used to,” he said. “I trained with my brother and my friends. And for me, it takes about a couple of months because I'm a goalie. It was really something to prepare for.”
Piska said it was an honour to not only be a part of Team Saskatchewan, but to represent his community.
He hopes the games will help him develop his leadership skills and perhaps inspire younger athletes “to play soccer as a goalie or just want to do bigger things.”
Team Saskatchewan is comprised of athletes between 15-19 years of age and come from every corner of the province.
NAIG sports include the traditional competitions in archery, canoe, kayak and lacrosse but also basketball, volleyball, soccer and others.
Indigenous actress, model, activist, Ashley Callingbull and professional hockey player Wacey Rabbit will be on site in Halifax to give the behind-the-scenes look at the athlete and coach experience.
Historically, Team Saskatchewan has done well at the Games having earned the top spot six of the eight times the Games have been held in Canada and the United States.