This piece originally said that the head coaches from 20 post-secondary institutions would be at the Indigenous Games. Jake Hendy wishes to clarify that 20 head coaches from Alberta post-secondary institutions were expected at the Games.
Athletes from across St. Albert and around the province will be in Edmonton this week to take part in the biggest Alberta Indigenous Games yet.
Some 2,000 Indigenous youths aged 10 to 20 will march into Edmonton’s Rundle Park on Sunday to kick off the 2019 Alberta Indigenous Games. Established in 2011, the games are an Olympic-style competition where Indigenous athletes compete in 13 team and individual sports for fame and medals.
This is a record number of participants for the games and a long way from the 300 they had back in 2011, said games manager Jake Hendy.
“It shows the communities and athletes are hungry for sports.”
In addition to the usual track and field events (discus, javelin, running, etc.), the Games also feature golf, canoeing, archery, baseball, and beach volleyball. Hendy said there is a big emphasis on lacrosse this year, with a record 200 players participating and a semi-pro exhibition match happening after the opening ceremonies Sunday.
New this year will be hand games, which will be treated as a demonstration sport. Hand games see one team hide objects in their hands while an opponent tries to guess which hands hold the items.
“It’s super competitive up north,” Hendy said, and features a lot of drumming and yelling as teams try to psych-out the guessers.
The Games also feature a strong cultural component, with drumming, round dances, an elders’ village, and an Eagle Staff run (similar to the Olympic torch run except with an eagle staff, which is a sacred symbol analogous to a nation’s flag).
Youths to shine
Hendy said the Games will be the first opportunity for many athletes to play in a big tournament or against all-Indigenous teams.
Shelby Paul, 16, a St. Albert resident and Alexander First Nation member, who will be competing in senior basketball, said she hoped to meet new friends at the Games.
“There’s not that many First Nations people that I know of that are in St. Albert,” she said, and this will likely be the first time she’d ever get to play with other Indigenous athletes.
“I think it’s important to have all the youth together so we can learn about our culture and keep our culture alive.”
Back again at the Games will be the Alexander U-19 women’s fastball team, which took gold at the 2017 Games. Coach R.J Arcand said the team has many veterans from that 2017 squad powered by a lot of passion and teamwork, and has a good chance to take the top prize again.
Many athletes at the Games are super-talented but don’t get a lot of exposure because they live in remote communities, Hendy said. This year, about 20 head-coaches from Albertan post-secondary institutions will be at the event to find these hidden gems and give them a chance to play at a higher level. Some participants may be recruited to join Team Alberta for the North American Indigenous Games.
Sports are a great way to teach youths about teamwork and to keep them away from bad habits like drugs and alcohol, Arcand said.
And they bolster your physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental health, Hendy added, referencing the four elements of healthy living represented by the medicine wheel.
“It feels good to be outside in nature and it feels good to be playing with friends.”
The Games run from Aug. 11 to 17 at parks and arenas throughout the Edmonton region. The opening ceremonies are Aug. 11 at 1 p.m. at Rundle Park. Visit albertaindigenousgames.ca for details.