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'Our culture is still so strong': how one Indigenous Games athlete is finding inspiration

Davina McLeod is a Gwich'in-Inuvialuit athlete from Aklavik, N.W.T. in Toronto to compete in the canoe races at the North American Indigenous Games.

Davina McLeod is racing to win, but also to celebrate

'The fact that we're still competing and excelling in our respective sports, despite the hardships I'm sure we all endure being Aboriginals from Canada, is something I'm really proud of!' (Davina McLeod)

Davina McLeod comes from a long line of paddlers.

"It's definitely a part of our culture. My grandfather, he's a big paddler and my grandma as well," says the Gwich'in-Inuvialuit athlete from Aklavik, N.W.T.

"It's always been a big thing for them to show the kids and their kids' kids how to paddle. So we're always all out on the water, just even for an activity to do if not racing."

I hope this encourages other Indigenous youth to be proud of who they are and where they came from.- Davina McLeod

But it's racing that brings the 19-year-old to Toronto this week.

She is a member of the Northwest Territories canoe team competing in the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG), and while she's been racing since she was first eligible to do so in her community — at the age of eight — this is her first time at these games. Now that's she's here, she's checking out her fellow athletes. "I'm excited to see what the competition is like," she says.

McLeod (far right) has been paddling for most of her life. (Davina McLeod )

More importantly, her passion for sport and her Indigenous community are top of mind as she arrives at NAIG.

"I think it's really important for Canadians to recognize Indigenous peoples all over Canada. The fact that we're still competing and excelling in our respective sports, despite the hardships I'm sure we all endure being Aboriginals from Canada, is something I'm really proud of! There's a lot of negativity towards us in Canada, so I'm glad NAIG is such a celebrated event."

McLeod (second from right) and some of her fellow teammates who are competing in canoe racing at this year's North American Indigenous Games. (Davina McLeod)

While McLeod has been focused on the games since finding out in May she was picked for the team, it's playing hockey that keeps her in shape. She plays for the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology Ooks in Edmonton, where she is also working towards a degree in marketing and business. She plans to continue playing hockey and racing canoe while she completes her education.

But this week, her eye is on the prize. "Hopefully we get some medals," she says, but most of all: "I'm looking forward to just cheering on my team and seeing how they do as well as how as we do together and I do alone."

"I'm so grateful for the opportunity to be here competing with so many other diverse Aboriginals," says McLeod. "It's amazing to see that our culture is still so strong. I hope this encourages other Indigenous youth to be proud of who they are and where they came from."

McLeod is among 5,000 athletes participating in the North American Indigenous Games, which features 14 sports, has 2,000 volunteers on deck and is drawing thousands of visitors. Follow the games at cbc.ca/naig.

What's your story? What defines Canada for you? Is there a time that you were proud to be Canadian, or perhaps a time you felt disappointed? Is there a place, person, or event in your life that sums up what being Canadian is to you? Tell us at cbc.ca/ whatsyourstory.

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