'Coming together': Athletes arrive in Alberta for World Indigenous Games

With the start of the World Indigenous Games just days away, athletes from around the world are arriving in Alberta for the eight-day celebration of Indigenous sport and culture.

Athletes coming from 29 countries including New Zealand, Australia, Argentina and Nicaragua

Jocabed Solano will be competing at the World Indigenous Games for the Panama soccer team. (Sam Martin/CBC)

Athletes from around the world have started to arrive in Alberta to take part in the World Indigenous Games, a celebration of Indigenous culture and sport, that gets underway July 2. 

Twenty-nine countries are expected to take part including New Zealand, Australia, Argentina and Nicaragua. 

A delegation from Panama was one of the first to arrive on Wednesday.

"We are very excited because we are coming together with different nations around the world," said Jocabed Solano, who plays on Panama's soccer team.

Events are taking place in Maskwacis and at the Enoch Cree, Alexis Nakota Sioux and Paul First Nations. 

Athletes will compete in soccer, basketball, swimming and lacrosse. Non-competitive sports such as archery, spear-throwing and traditional hand games also part of the line-up.

Pablo Green said delegates from Panama will meet with other Indigenous leaders to discuss issues such as climate change. (Sam Martin/CBC News)

Athletes can participate in social forums, youth conferences and the sharing of traditional foods.

Solano, 25, said the games is all about uniting people.   

"It's not just to play," she said. "We are coming together to learn more about other cultures, about the lands and about justice."

Pablo Green, president of the Panama team, said the event gives Indigenous leaders a chance to share ideas.

"We are having meetings with different nations and are trying to make a plan on how we can stay together because we have similar struggles and problems in our lands," Green said. 

Climate change will be a main topic of discussion, he said. 

The first World Indigenous Games took place in Brazil in 2015. (World Indigenous Games)

With as many as 2,000 athletes expected to take part, dorms are being set up in the schools at Enoch and Maskwacis. 

There's a buzz in both communities as the start of the eight-day spectacle gets closer.

"Our community is going to be very welcoming in bringing the world to us," said Darren Simon from Maskwacis. "I think it means a lot to our youth and our kids."

Darrren Simon said people in Maskwacis are thrilled to be welcoming athletes from around the world. (Sam Martin/CBC News)

Willie Littlechild, Grand Chief of Treaty 6, said he's dreamed of bringing the World Indigenous Games to Canada for years.

Now that his dream is a reality, he hopes young people will be inspired by what they see.

"When they see an experience with a richness in our culture, the meaning of our culture, there's no doubt in our minds that it will motivate them to actually pursue a different path in life,"  Littlechild said.

Treaty 6 Grand Chief Willie Littlechild said the games will showcase Indigenous cultures from around the world through traditional sports. (Sam Martin/CBC)

Organizers, who made a last-ditch plea for funding to all three levels of government, said corporate donations helped alleviate any financial concerns.

This is the second World Indigenous Games. The inaugural event was held in Brazil in 2015.

Jocabed Solano said it feels special to be part of something that showcases Indigenous talent and traditions.

"We believe we have a strong spirit and we believe in our people," she said. 

The first event is a bow and arrow competition in Enoch which begins at 9 a.m. Sunday.

The opening ceremonies take place Monday at 7 p.m. at Bear Park in Maskwacis.

Organizers say they want as many people as possible to attend.