World Indigenous Games changed lives
- Sekwun Ahenakew | December 23, 2015
Our team was ready and waiting for a few hours, and we were becoming accustomed to “Brasilian Time.” In a sea of colour surrounding us, the arena director announced our Tug of War event in Portuguese. The huge crowd of Indigenous Peoples from around the world were going wild, I was pumped from listening to our coach and his words of encouragement, focused from seeing our fiercely painted opponents and exhilarated from that fact that I was participating at the 1st ever World Indigenous Games, in Palmas, Brasil, as an Athlete!
As excited as I was and as intense as the heat was, I remained quiet…. focused on a huge dusty rope, red sand on my feet and the backs of 9 team mates, as I was the anchor. The tug of war rope was approximately 35 metres in length and about 3 inches in diameter. Our playing field was sand and we were all bare foot. My team mates of this U.S. delegation included members of the Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Navajo, Apache, Comanche, Lummi, Chippewa, Nez Percé and Cherokee nations. I was a recruit and so was Eyves Brown, a Maori from New Zealand.
Old-fashioned tug-of-war—where our opponents with their faces-painted to strike fear in our hearts-was about to begin. Our faces were painted too and our walk to the rope, made me feel proud of who I was. After the officials confirmed each team was standing and the rope was not wrapped around the anchor, they blew the whistle. One, two three, Pull, was our strategy. We had to figure out a tactic that would tug our opponents out of the sand mounds they buried themselves in and to gain an advantage with the tag marker.
In my mind, two minutes didn’t seem like a long time, but during the event, all time stood still. It was just like in those athletic commercials when all you hear is breathing. Being in a central position on the rope, Temryss, volunteered to be the main one who shouted out directions. During the two minute long battle, we were one voice, one heart, one soul. Two minutes, seemed like eternity. At first we pulled with chaotic excitement until we could hear Temryss, “One, Two, three pull, One two three pull!” We chimed in and created a rhythm that kept us all in sync to victory! This victory advanced us to the semi-finals!
The games were held on a 7-hectare park, with large lots of red patches of sand and dirt with random walkways, holding blankets full of crafts, such as wooden rattles, traditional bows, feathered earrings and necklaces made of wooden seeds. It was here, that I plopped down and opened my gym bag and pulled out my dress and beadwork. It was here that I transformed from Athlete to Dancer. I quickly made my way to the Cultural Village to join the Many Nations Dance Troupe.
To get into the Cultural Village, we usually have to go through a security clearance. On this night, by this time, security recognized me and was let in quickly. Crowds of people were already situated in a semi-circle around the dancers and the Young Bucks drum group were singing proudly. I was greeted by smiles and the flashes of many cameras. I had just enough time to squeeze through the crowd, sip some water and start dancing. I felt on top of the world, having just advanced in the tug of war event with Team USA at the main arena and showcasing my dance style, soon after, with Team Canada at the Cultural Village.
All participants earned medals carved from wood, seeds and other natural items. There were more than 2,000 participants from Brasil and 23 countries, either participating in the athletic events or showcasing their dances by performing at the Cultural Village.
With humbleness I can say I will not only be receiving a wooden medal from being on Team Canada’s cultural representation but from one from our American brothers and sisters across the medicine line, for athletics, as well. Through this phenomenal experience I can say that it has changed my life and opened my eyes to a whole ancient world of strength and richness of Indigenous People.
The purpose of the games was to raise awareness about the many different Indigenous groups around the world. The Many Nations Dance Troupe, led by Eugene and Lorna Arcand from Saskatchewan joined other Team Canada participants to collectively show the world that we are here and that we are alive!
The next World Indigenous Games will be in Canada in 2017. I encourage everyone who wishes to participate to proudly display your culture as well as your athleticism.
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