World Indigenous Nations Games come to a close in Alberta

A week of international competition among Indigenous athletes has come to a close in Alberta.

'There's a reason we should be proud,' says Muskeg Lake First Nation athlete

Indigenous athletes from around the world join hands in a rounddance at the closing ceremonies of the World Indigenous Nations Games on Treaty Six territory on Sunday. (Emilio Avalos/CBC)

A week of international competition among Indigenous athletes has come to a close in Alberta. 

More than 1,500 hundred athletes representing all seven geopolitical regions of the world have been on Treaty Six territory near Edmonton competing in events, including: lacrosse, archery, soccer, swimming and canoeing. 

When the second edition of the World Indigenous Nations Games opened on July 3, most of the athletes were strangers. At Sunday's closing ceremonies, they looked like friends who had known each other for years. 

Cori Arcand from Muskeg Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan, said that they've learned a lot about each other — and themselves. 

He competed in javelin on Saturday. It was his first time throwing a spear. 

'It gives me a chance to go back and learn about myself.' - Cori Arcand

"It gives me a chance to go back and learn about myself, where I came from as an Indigenous person," Arcand said. 

"I think stuff like this is going to make young people, young First Nations people who have lost their way, realize there's a reason that we should be proud of who we are." 

Bringing people together

Treaty Six Grand Chief Willie Littlechild is the founder of the games. He first broached the idea at the United Nations nearly 40 years ago. 

The inaugural event was held in Palmos, Brazil in 2015. 

"The first one is always the hardest," Littlechild said. "The second one is to keep the momentum now that there's interest." 

Treaty Six Grand Chief Willie Littlechild takes in the World Indigenous Nations Games closing ceremonies. (Emilio Avalos/CBC)

More than 20,000 spectators took in sporting events in Maskwacis, the Enoch Cree First Nation, Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation and Paul First Nation. Among them were non-Indigenous people. 

"That was one of our dreams — to have a getting together of both societies, both cultures, and they were out there supporting. It was good. It was really good," Littlechild said. 

Growing pains

The games weren't without some hiccups. There were organizational challenges related to transportation and scheduling. 

Eyasu Joffe of the Raptbae tribe in Ethiopia, competed in the first edition of the games. He said that in Palmos it was all fairly central, which wasn't the case this time around. There was a lot of back and forth between Maskwacis and the Enoch Cree Nation, which are about an hour apart. This resulted in events being delayed. 

"The games are in different places," Joffe said. "They didn't know about the time."

Littlechild acknowledged there were growing pains. Organizers didn't get the funding they'd hope for. At least three quarters of the $10- to 12-million budget came from in-kind donations and the local communities rallied to host the athletes and the events. 

Maori athletes from New Zealand dance the haka at the World Indigenous Nations Games closing ceremonies. (Emilio Avalos/CBC )

Whetu Rangihaeata, of Aotearoa in New Zealand, said the hospitality was fantastic. 

"They know how to look after people," he said. "And when I say they, I'm talking about the community that we lived at, we're talking about the people at Maskwacis." 

Littlechild will be reporting to the United Nations this week on the games. 

He said he's looking forward to discussing where the third World Indigenous Nations Games will be held. ​