A non-traditional year for the N.W.T. Traditional Games Championships

The annual school competition won't take part in person, but student athletes will still get a chance to show their Arctic Sports and Dene Games skills from the comfort of their own communities.

Students in the North will not be travelling this year for the 2021 Traditional Games Championship

Students compete in the 2019 Traditional Games Championships hosted by the Aboriginal Sports Circle NWT. (ANGELA GZOWSKI/Aboriginal Sports Circle NWT)

The N.W.T.'s annual Traditional Games Championships is gearing up for a less-than-traditional year. 

Typically hosting around 200 student athletes in Yellowknife to compete in Arctic Sports and Dene Games, the Aboriginal Sports Circle NWT announced there will be no travelling for the competition this year, with games instead taking place in the students' respective communities. 

"Traditionally, we get all the students and athletes, [and] coaches who come to Yellowknife and we do a big event," said Carson Roche, events manager with the Aboriginal Sports Circle. "Unfortunately, we can't do it this year." 

Kicking off March 1, youth between the ages of 10 and 12 will have the opportunity to show their strength in the one-foot high kick, wrist hang, triple jump, stick pull, snow snake and the recently introduced snowshoe race.

Typically, the games are team-based, but with current distancing restrictions organizers said they tried to pick single-player games that can be measured by time or distance. 

"We want communities to stay active, and speaking with a lot of communities that's what they're looking for too," Rocher said, noting there was record-breaking attendance last year. 

"Schools are happy that we're still running and we'll do our best to get all the schools signed up."

Carson Roche is the events manager with Aboriginal Sports Circle NWT. (Danielle d'Entremont/CBC)

Safe communities a priority

While the games are normally held in Yellowknife, this is no normal year.

Due to territorial public health guidelines, organized indoor events held outside a household are restricted to a maximum of 25 people, unless an exemption by territorial health officials is approved. 

To keep communities in the North safe, Roche said the decision was made to ask students to compete in their communities.

"I didn't think [the pandemic] was going to go on this long. I thought we were going to, you know, be normal and have normal traditional games championship by this time, but we've got to stay creative," he said. 

Students compete in the 2019 Traditional Games Championships. This year, events will be hosted in athletes' home communities, with scores and distances compiled virtually. (ANGELA GZOWSKI/Aboriginal Sports Circle NWT)

Aboriginal Sports Circle officials are still working out the final details but are hopeful to have a live leaderboard to keep track of competition times on the website

"It should be fun," Rocher said with a laugh.

"It's not going to be perfect, there will be trial and error … but maybe this can help other organizations run their events," he said. "It could [be] a good stepping stone."

Schools are invited to register before Feb. 15. Athletes will have two months to compete.