World Indigenous Nations Games organizers in race to raise $25 million from Edmonton, province and feds

Organizers of the World Indigenous Games are in a race against time to secure the millions of dollars in funds they need to host the event at the Enoch First Nation in July.

Funding requested to host Indigenous athletes from 40 countries in Edmonton area in July

Athletes competing in the tug of strength at the inaugural World Indigenous Nations Games in Brazil in 2015. (World Indigenous Nations Games)

Organizers from the World Indigenous Nations Games are making one last push to secure funds to stage the event which is happening at the Enoch First Nation just west of Edmonton in July.

"We see this as a signature event for the nation," said Cara Currie Hall, who is part of the team planning the competition.

As many as 4,000 people representing 40 different countries are expected to be part of the games which are happening for only the second time after being staged in Brazil in 2015.

In order to staff the games, as well as provide security and transportation for those involved, organizers are asking for $25 million in total from all three levels of government.

They want the lion's share — $15 million — to come from Ottawa and are hoping for the province of Alberta and the City of Edmonton to chip in $5 million each.

Athletes, elders and leaders from 40 countries representing hundreds of Indigenous nations are expected to be at Enoch First Nation for the games. (World Indigenous Nations Games)

It's a request they say is reasonable for a world-class event, and one which they're convinced will provide an economic boost to the Edmonton area.

"They will be shopping here, they will be eating here, they will be buying souvenirs here. So this is a huge benefit to our city," said Jodi Calahoo-Stonehouse, also part of the organizing team.

The occasion is a celebration of sport where athletes showcase their skills in events such as traditional hand games as well as the tug of strength, archery, canoeing and lacrosse.

There are also dances every evening, several powwows and daily cultural activities.

The opening ceremonies for the World Indigenous Nations Games are scheduled to take place at the Enoch First Nation on July 2. (World Indigenous Nations Games)

"The beauty of this is it's like watching National Geographic come to life," said Calahoo-Stonehouse.

Treaty 6 Grand Chief Willie Littlechild said it's a major coup to be hosting an event he's positive can be life-changing for many young Indigenous people.

"It's a way to give young people an option to choose life rather than suicide," Littlechild said drawing on his own experience of playing hockey to escape the horrors of residential schools.

"It allowed me that safe setting away from abuse and I ended up liking the sport. And as a result of it, going to college and then going to university," Littlechild said.

After trying to bring an event of this magnitude to Canada for nearly 40 years, Littlechild said he's upbeat the funds will fall into place.

Willie Littlechild said the games promote healthy and positive lifestyles for Indigenous people through sports and cultural programs (CBC News)

A spokesperson for the City of Edmonton confirmed representatives have met with the games organizers.

City council will take a look at the proposal next and make a decision on the level of financial support from the city by the end of May.

The province said it too has received a request but cannot make any promises.

The federal government said it had not yet received an application for funding in spite of the fact games officials maintain they've held several discussions about the issue including as recently as last month. 

The organizing team said they're trying to raise money on their own by looking for sponsors in addition to selling merchandise and commemorative booklets.

Games organizers including Cara Currie Hall (second left) and Jodi Calahoo-Stonehouse (far right) are selling merchandise and handing out flyers to spread the word about the event. (Gareth Hampshire CBC News)

They insist the games will go ahead, whether the funds come through or not, thanks to in-kind donations they already have in place.

Those include support from the University of Alberta, which is making its Lister Hall residences available for athletes to stay in.

Currie Hall said the event, which runs from July 1-9, will focus on healing and hope, regardless of the funding obstacles.

"It's an awakening of our people. It's an opportunity of all people to come together," she said.