'Culture has a role just as big as sport' at the Arctic Winter Games
Delegates say the Games are far more than sports — they're an opportunity to learn from each other
As athletes and participants at the Arctic Winter Games in Wood Buffalo, Alta., square off against each other in competitions, they're also finding friends and learning about the cultures of other teams.
The Games aren't just about sports — it's also a chance for Arctic peoples to come together and share their knowledge with each other.
This year, the 2023 Games have a full cultural gala set for Thursday and Friday, featuring singing, dancing, theatre and other performances. But participants have already feasted, danced and drummed during evening celebrations.
Noriko Tooktoo is with Team Nunavik. As soon as she arrived at the airport her first order of business was to dance. She’s self taught and says dancing is in her blood.<br>“My grandpa is Inuit dancer, my aunt is Inuit dancer, my biological mom is a hip-hopper.” <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/awg2023?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#awg2023</a> <a href="https://t.co/LUQFM2c5rb">pic.twitter.com/LUQFM2c5rb</a>—@geomaratos
Taiga Las, a 15-year-old cultural delegate from Iqaluit, said she's excited for the upcoming performances.
"People think that different cultures are basically all the same, but they're not," she said. There are similarities, but there are differences, too.
"I've been learning a lot from other cultures as well."
On Tuesday evening, participants were welcomed to a feast. Alice Martin, an elder from Mikisew Cree First Nation in Fort Chipewyan, Alta., opened the feast with a prayer.
Culture is her passion, she said, and passing it along to youths.
"All the young people here, it's good to see them because some of us want to revive our culture, show them how important it is for us, and to share that with them," she said.
"For me, especially if you're going to provide this type of cultural event, the spirituality of the Indigenous people from here — the Cree, Dene and Métis — is very important."
Jes Croucher and Allison Flett, the cultural co-chairs for the Games, said local elders planned the menu for Tuesday's feast. They had bison stew, two types of duck, Arctic char, berries, rice and tea.
"I think culture has a role just as big as sport, and that's what makes these games so special," said Flett.
"Our culture is based on kinship, so that spirit of kinship runs through everything and it's just so nice that we can share [our culture] with all our visitors."
Mia Maurice, who will be performing during the gala on Thursday and Friday, said she's practised a lot to prepare for her performances.
"It takes a lot of practice every day, but it's a lot of fun," she said.
Participants have also gotten a taste of culture beyond performances. James Fabian Willier, a competitive dog musher from Sucker Creek First Nation in Alberta, helped to give dogsled rides to people during Shine on the Snye, one of the cultural events at the Games.
Dogsledding is an "old way of life," he said, that was used long before snowmobiles and even horses.
"It's a big part of Métis culture, Indigenous culture, and just everyone," he said.
"Being able to familiarize people with every aspect of the Indigenous culture and our way of life, I think, is all the better for understanding just like we would any other nationality."
With files from Natalie Pressman, Liny Lamberink, Teresa Qiatsuq and Eli Qaqqasik-Taqtu