Could the next Olympics have a Team Indigenous? 2 chiefs think so

Two chiefs from Canada were in Pyeongchang, South Korea, last week to speak to Olympic officials about the possibility of entering a team of Indigenous North American athletes at future games.

Dene Chief Bill Erasmus and Cree Chief Willie Littlechild went to South Korea to talk to Olympic officials

From left, Dene Chief Bill Erasmus, Team Canada's Brigitte Lacquette, and Cree Chief Willie Littlechild at the winter Olympics in South Korea. The chiefs were at the event discussing the possibility of a Team Indigenous at future Olympics. (Submitted by Bill Erasmus)

Two chiefs from Canada were in Pyeongchang, South Korea, last week to speak to Olympic officials about the possibility of entering a team of Indigenous North American athletes at future games.

National Dene Chief Bill Erasmus and Grand Chief Willie Littlechild of the Confederacy of Treaty 6 Nations met with the Canadian Olympic Committee, and with Thomas Bach, chairman of the International Olympic Committee, on their visit.

"It's really quite exciting," said Erasmus.

"[Bach] was very receptive to all of our ideas and we're continuing a discussion with them."

Littlechild, from Maskwacis in central Alberta, has been involved with the North American Indigenous Games and the World Indigenous Games. Erasmus is envisioning a Team Indigenous — made up of Indigenous athletes from across Canada and the U.S.

"It's more to have our own representation at the Olympics as a nation of people," he said.

"It's been accepted that we can represent ourselves as Indigenous peoples. We don't necessarily have to be there to represent a country called Canada or the United States."

Chief Bill Erasmus and Chief Willie Littlechild with Team Canada at the 2018 Olympics. (Submitted by Bill Erasmus)

Erasmus pointed to several Indigenous athletes who are competing in this year's Olympics, including Kevin Koe, the skip of Canada's men's curling team who is Gwich'in from the N.W.T., and women's hockey player Brigitte Lacquette, a member of the Cote First Nation in Saskatchewan.

He said if Team Indigenous went ahead, athletes like them could choose to be on that team or represent their country.

With Calgary considering putting in a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympic Games, Erasmus said the Olympic committee could also consider adding new sports, like traditional Dene or Inuit games. He used the Alaskan high kick as an example.

Erasmus and Littlechild were able to take in some of the action at the games last week, getting photos with members of Team Canada.

While Erasmus is back in Canada, Littlechild is staying on in South Korea to continue discussions of entering a Team Indigenous at future Paralympics. Those games start on March 8.

With files from Kirsten Murphy