Alberta First Nations proud to host World Indigenous Nations Games

More than 1,500 Indigenous athletes from around the world are staying in teepee villages in Maskwacis and the Enoch Cree Nation. Between July 2 and 9, they're competing in a variety of events, from archery to basketball, soccer to log races.

'Everyone was really on board and came together as a big team and pulled this together,' says WIN Games helper

The Maskwacis dancers participate in the grand entry during the WIN Games opening ceremonies at the Ermineskin powwow grounds on Monday night. (Roberta Bell/CBC)

​When Flora Northwest heads out her front door and into her community of Maskwacis, she's overwhelmed by a sense of pride.

"Pride of who I am, of who we are as First Nations," explained the Samson Cree Nation elder, who has been volunteering with the World Indigenous Nations (WIN) Games, which are being hosted, in part, by her reserve south of Edmonton.

More than 1,500 Indigenous athletes from around the world are staying in teepee villages in Maskwacis (which includes the Samson Cree Nation, Ermineskin Cree Nation, Montana First Nation and Louis Bull First Nation) and the Enoch Cree Nation.

Between July 2 and 9, they're competing in a variety of events, from archery to basketball, soccer to log races. 

Elder Flora Northwest of the Samson Cree Nation says shes proud to be a part of host community. (John Robertson/CBC)

"This is what our ancestors left us with; the teepees, the traditions, the ceremonies, the culture," Northwest said.

'Huge change of plans'

It's a sentiment echoed by Brittany McMaster of the Montana First Nation. Like Northwest, she's one of the hundreds of local Indigenous people helping out.

"It's been crazy," McMaster said, citing the "huge change of plans" to hold events on the First Nations instead of in Edmonton.

"Everyone was really on board and came together as a big team and pulled this together," she added.

Hosting the World Indigenous Nations Games creates a sense of pride for some in the Aboriginal community. 1:49

Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation said his reserve offered to host the canoeing on Lake Wakamne, also known as Lac St. Anne.

He said while there was a lot of lobbying of government and local institutions for financial help, in the end the resources weren't there.

"The communities, they were always willing," Alexis explained. "In a sense, it was a blessing in its own disguise and we're happy that it worked out that way."

'They begin to believe again'

The WIN Games were the brainchild of Treaty Six Grand Chief Willie Littlechild of the Ermineskin Cree Nation.

He first broached the idea 40 years ago at an international conference. The first iteration of the event came to life in 2015 in Palmos, Brazil.

Cara Currie Hall of the Montana First Nation has been working closely with Littlechild to bring the event home.

Chiefs participate in the Grand Entry during the WIN Games opening ceremonies on Monday night in Maskwacis. (John Robertson/CBC)

To see the pride hosting the event has instilled in the community has been a highlight for her.

"It stirs you up inside," Currie Hall said.

"To bring people hope is really, really important. I think too often we're so oppressed and suppressed or conditioned and then there's apathy. All of those things diminish as soon as something like this comes," she said.

"They begin to believe again."

'Grow together into the future'

Currie Hall said the WIN Games are for everybody.

"They're for all of us to understand each other. They're for all of us to begin to reconcile, build relationships, to grow together into the future," she said.

For the outside world to see Maskwacis in this light is important to McMaster.

Brittany McMaster of the Montana Band says she's excited that people are learning more about her culture and community. (John Robertson/CBC)

"It makes me excited and super proud that the world can come here and finally hear good news about what's going on in our community, because a lot of time there's negative, negative stories that are put out there," she said.

"There's a lot of really good people who live here and we're doing a lot of really great things."

Alexis said there's a lot of healing happening in the communities because of a heightened sense of Indigenous autonomy.

"This work has to come from us as Indigenous people. We look after one another," he said.

roberta.bell@cbc.ca

@roberta__bell