AWG 2018

Role model, community leader chosen as Team N.W.T. flag-bearer

Fort Good Hope's TJ Kaskamin is a 17-year-old forward on Team N.W.T basketball. He’s a first-time competitor but he’s a leader in his community, calling the younger basketball players there his 'little siblings.'

TJ Kaskamin, 17, will lead the team out into the opening ceremonies Sunday

TJ Kaskamin plays forward on Team N.W.T.'s U18 basketball team. He'll be leading the team as the flag-bearer at the Arctic Winter Games opening ceremonies. (Emily Blake/CBC)

When the Arctic Winter Games open in Hay River on Sunday, Team N.W.T. will be led by TJ Kaskamin, an athlete and community role model from Fort Good Hope.

The 17-year-old is a forward on the territory's basketball team. He's a first-time Arctic Winter Games competitor, but he's a leader in his community, calling the younger basketball players there his "little siblings."

"I make them laugh a lot," he said. "I'm probably the weirdest guy on the team. I always have to make a joke in practice. They're all fun. I like playing with these guys."

Kaskamin lost two role models of his own in the past two years.

Gregory Shae, his cousin and longtime volleyball coach, died in 2016. His mother, Sarena Kaskamin, died in January, just as they were preparing to travel to Fort Smith.

"My mom was probably the most caring person that I knew in my entire life," he said. "My mom was always there for me."

"My mom's been proud of me ever since I started playing with the territory's team," he said.

Team N.W.T.'s U18 basketball team practices in Yellowknife ahead of the tournament in Fort Smith. (Emily Blake/CBC)

Kaskamin will have two of his siblings courtside watching him play, along with other family and community members from Fort Good Hope.

He'll also be using some of the lessons his cousin Shae taught him — even if he's playing basketball at the games instead of volleyball.

"He taught me pretty much everything I needed to know and I started using that everyday to get better at volleyball," Kaskamin said. "I'm actually pretty weird because of him … we would tease each other."

'Great role model'

Kaskamin said sports and spending time with friends have helped him deal with the difficult periods in his life. He's now working on leading the younger basketball players in his community.  

TJ Kaskamin calls for the ball during a practice for the Team N.W.T. Arctic Winter Games basketball team. (Emily Blake/CBC)

"He's just a genuine person on and off the court, people really look up to him. They respect him," said Aaron Wells, Kaskamin's basketball coach.

"He's a great role model for the younger basketball players."

Wells cited those leadership skills as one of the reasons why he was one of several people to nominate Kaskamin to carry the Northwest Territories flag.

"What you see of TJ off the court is kind of what you get on the court," Wells said. "He's always got a smile on his face, he works hard, he's always talking with his teammates and encouraging them."