New Brunswick Indian Summer Games underway in Tobique
Event keeps youth active, brings communities together, organizers say
First Nations communities from across the province are taking part in the 2013 New Brunswick Indian Summer Games in Tobique and Perth-Andover over the next four days.
The Tobique first Nation reserve is hosting the games, which will include a variety of sports, such as basketball, track and field and archery.
But it's soccer that some volunteers with the games are especially proud of this year.
They say it's having a big impact on the lifestyle of the youth on the reserve.
Kellen Hassencahl first started playing soccer when he was 10 years old.
He admits it wasn't his favourite sport, but he used it as a way to shape up before the start of the hockey season.
Now he's volunteering as a soccer coach at the games for the second year in a row.
"Anything to get kids outside and away from their video games is a good thing," he said.
Hassencahl says when he first started coaching soccer, youth weren't very interested in playing the sport.
Now that his community is hosting the event, however, the response was greater than anticipated and some youth had to be turned away.
"It's an honour really. I honestly didn't think we'd be able to host the Games," said Hassencahl.
"I didn't think we'd be able to pull it off ... Now the place looks spectacular. I'm excited"
Terry Francis, a soccer co-ordinator, said the growth in popularity of soccer on the Tobique reserve is wonderful for the community.
"It's nice to see parents out and supporting their kids, watching their kids at practise," she said.
Francis, who works at Tobique's local health centre, says it's also important for youth to stay active to help them keep fit.
"Everybody knows that kids stay inside too much nowadays," she said.
"They're on videogames, cellphones and iPods. Or they're staying up too late at night."
With soccer at 11 a.m. on the reserve, Francis says the sport is helping to keep youth on a healthier path.
Games started in 1970s
The New Brunswick Indian Summer Games first started in the 1970s, but went on a 24-year hiatus because of a lack of funding.
Historically, the Summer Games helped to foster a strong sense of community among different First Nations reserves, said Pat Bernard, chairperson of the New Brunswick Aboriginal Sport and Recreation Authority, the group responsible for co-ordinating the event.
"The Games brought us all together," he said.
"You met people and relationships came out of that, and now that's happening too."
The NBRSA was able to bring the games back in 2010 with a new structure for funding, which includes sponsorship and a $1,200 participation fee from First Nations.
"The Games are really important to the community for the youth," said Bernard.
"It helps the youth be active and helps with obesity and diabetes and gets kids off the streets."
The competition wraps up on Saturday when awards will be handed out to athletes.
As for Hassencahl, he'll be off to college for policing after the Summer Games are over.
But he hopes the long-term impact of the Games will stay with the Tobique First Nation.
"I think it will benefit the community. I think it will be a lot of fun," he said.
"Considering we have so many kids that want to be a part of this now, maybe kids who got interested in sports because we're the host community will play year-round."