Paddling competition at Indigenous Games is 'tradition through sport'

The canoes and kayaks might be made of modern materials these days but for many of the youth competing at the North American Indigenous Games, paddling is a sport deeply rooted in history and tradition.

Canoe/kayak races kicked off on Tuesday at the North American Indigenous Games

The canoe/kayak competition got underway at the Welland International Flatwater Centre in Welland, Ont., on Tuesday. (Tim Fontaine/CBC)

The canoes and kayaks might be made of modern materials these days, but for many of the youth competing at the North American Indigenous Games, paddling is a sport deeply rooted in history and tradition.

Hundreds of athletes from across the continent took part in the first day of canoe and kayak competition at NAIG on Tuesday at the Welland International Flatwater Centre in Welland, Ont.

"It's in my family," said Scott Linklater, 14, who comes from Pukatawagan — a Cree community in northern Manitoba — and who is competing in the solo canoe race.

"Everybody paddles."

Tim Fontaine of CBC Indigenous reports from the start of the canoe and kayak races at the 2017 North American Indigenous Games in Toronto. 1:33

In fact, most of the youth who make up Manitoba's canoe/kayak team come from northern communities where canoes are still regularly used by hunters, fishers and trappers.

"Cross Lake [Manitoba] is full of paddlers and rowers," said Noretta Misswaggon, manager of Manitoba's canoeing team.

"It's traditional for us … for the youth, this is a taste of tradition, through sport."

From hunting muskrats to coaching

From Inuvik, Team N.W.T coach Tim Gordon said his own expertise in canoeing is also rooted in tradition.

"I grew up with it, around it, used to hunt muskrats 12 hours a day in a canoe," he said. "It's just always been a part of who I am."

It's a tradition he's passing on to his own two children, both of whom already won medals at NAIG.

Gordon's daughter, Kyra McDonald, took silver in the U14 3,000 metre solo canoe race on Tuesday, the first medal for Team N.W.T. 

Meanwhile, his son, Kaiden McDonald, and Aklavik's Davina McLeod won gold in the U19 3,000-metre tandem canoe race, an event that puts a girl and boy in one canoe.

'Best friends'

The canoe/kayak competition continues in Welland until Thursday, which means there are plenty of medals to still be handed out.

But for Misswaggon, the pride of just being at the games is what's most important this week.

"Just seeing the kids and how they've come from not knowing each other to being best friends and cheering each other on, the support they have for each other, it's really good to see," she said.


Follow along the latest NAIG action on our live blog.

About the Author

Tim Fontaine

Tim Fontaine is a Winnipeg-based writer who has worked for APTN National News and CBC Indigenous. You can follow him on Twitter: @anishinaboy.