Alberta Indigenous Games kick off in Edmonton

Indigenous youth from across the province have descended on Rundle Park this week to try a new sport or to sharpen their skills. Students can either pick one sport or try to master a few during the five day competition.

Youth from across the province are in Edmonton competing in sports and learning about Indigenous culture

Indigenous girls enjoy a game of volleyball as part of the Alberta Indigenous Games competition at East Glen High School. (CBC)

The competition is heating up at the Alberta Indigenous Games this week.

Every second year, Indigenous youth from across the province descend on the Edmonton area to try new sports and sharpen their skills at others.

"It's created by Indigenous, for Indigenous peoples," AIG president Martha Campiou said Monday.

Martha Campiou, president of the Alberta Indigenous Games, speaks to CBC News on the first day of the competition. (CBC)

Participants have 12 sports to choose from, including golf, volleyball and basketball.

Aside from sports, the coaches also teach cultural pride. Some have the youths smudge or pray before every game.

"We also felt it was important that we include the cultural part of who we are as Aboriginal people and that it'll help them get to know their identity better," Campiou said.

"Sports is more than sports ... it's about the mind, the body and the spirit."

A dream realized

The Alberta Indigenous Games were started eight years ago by Allan Ross, a Cree man from Timber Bay, Sask.

Ross arrived in Edmonton and decided there was a need in the city for more Indigenous inclusion in sports.

That's when Ross created the Edmonton Native Basketball Association, a group that organizes and develops basketball tournaments for Indigenous teams across the province.

Today, the organization continues to support the Alberta Indigenous Games with volunteers and minor donations.

The first games in 2009 had 400 athletes sign up, but Ross always wanted to see more than 1,000 people register.

Ross passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer after the last games were held in 2015.

Allan Ross, founder of the Alberta Indigenous Games, holds a basketball and a lacrosse net in his home. Ross passed away in 2015 after a lengthy battle with cancer. (Marnie Ross)

His goal was reached this weekend, when over 1,100 youths showed up for the first day.

Marnie Ross said her father would be proud to see all of these young people playing on their traditional lands.

"For my dad, it wasn't just about having a thousand athletes," Ross said. "My dad's vision … is for there to be an Alberta Indigenous Games forever."

The games continue in Rundle Park until Friday, August 18.