Youth organize hand games tournament in Fort Providence, navigating pandemic restrictions

Over the course of the pandemic, some Indigenous communities have struggled to rekindle a sense of normalcy and tradition.

2 youth organized tournament after months of being unable to practise the tradition

The community of Fort Providence, N.W.T., in September 2019. A hand games tournament took place in this community despite physical distancing restrictions. (Trevor Lyons/CBC)

In Fort Providence, N.W.T., two Indigenous youth organized a hand games tournament after months of being unable to practice the tradition due to public health orders. It was an effort to rekindle spiritual and cultural connections in their communities amid the pandemic.  

A limited amount of teams from some communities in the Denendeh, homeland of the Dene people, arrived to participate this weekend. When more than 20 teams arrived, public health orders forced the organizers to turn some away.

On Facebook, some people expressed frustration over travelling from their communities only to be told they couldn't participate. 

Beth Hudson, a leadership development co-ordinator for the Aboriginal Sports Circle of the N.W.T., which was not involved in organizing the event, said although the youth organizers encountered challenges navigating health orders, their efforts should be celebrated. 

"These youth are still pushing every single day to bring back culture and recreation to their community so everyone can be a little bit happier and healthier," she said.

"It's just so inspiring to know that there is a territory-wide rush to go to Fort Providence to play in their little tournament."  

Hudson said the young organizers had not really put together a hand games event like this before. 

"We already struggle enough with being able to access these sorts of opportunities on a daily basis … and so to have a pandemic … is so daunting for anyone to try and run programming right now," she said.

Only a limited number of teams were allowed to participate in the tournament due to pandemic restrictions. (Submitted by George Bugghins)

An important tradition

Hudson said it took initiative for youth to work together and continue the important tradition. 

Hand games "are so closely tied" to emotional, spiritual, and cultural health and wellness, Hudson said. The absence of "those outlets to engage both in physical activity and cultural activity," weighs on Indigenous people, she said.

Joachim Bonnetrouge, Deh Gah Got'ie First Nation chief in Fort Providence, said the spring and summer "is really a time to get together and celebrate," as communities in the region and across the territory would travel and reunite.

The chief of Fort Providence, Joachim Bonnetrouge, thinks the tournament was a learning opportunity to better inform how future activities could be run in a physically distant world.  (Submitted by Joachim Bonnetrouge)

But finding ways to come together is a challenge when it involves vulnerable populations and new health measures.

"Even our elders are sad and they miss us … they really miss telling stories ... and just visiting family. It's been difficult," Bonnetrouge said. 

He said this event could possibly be used as a learning opportunity to better inform how future activities could be run in a socially distant world.  

The pandemic has added a greater strain on Indigenous people's ability to practise their traditions, which "really impact health and well-being," said Hudson.  

"It has been an exceptionally hard time with a pandemic going on and everything ... because we all feel trapped in place," Hudson said.