1st meet? No problem. Small Yukon swim team brings 'a lot of power' to Indigenous Games

With the North American Indigenous Games approaching, Yukon's swim team is making final preparations. For some of them, it's preparing for their first meet ever.

7 members see NAIG as opportunity to learn more about cultures across North America

Yukon's swim team for the North American Indigenous Games tries on their new uniforms. From left to right: Kassua Dreyer, Rennes Lindsay, Brooklyn Massie, Cameron Maguire, Helene Maguire, Shailyn Moore, and Cassis Lindsay. (Rachel Levy-McLaughlin/CBC)

Among the sounds of the gentle splashing in a public pool, comes the chatter of a small but excited crowd: it's the Yukon swim team for the North American Indigenous Games — made up of just seven athletes — trying on their new swimsuits for this year's competition.

Next month, they'll be joining other Indigenous athletes from across the continent for the Games in Toronto. This year, Yukon is sending more than 150 athletes to the competition, participating in almost all of the 14 sports.

This will be the first time at NAIG for almost all of Yukon's swim team — and the first time at any swim meet for some of the team members.

Coach Shereen Hill, from the Nacho Nyak Dun First Nation, says that's one of the best parts of NAIG: athletes who've been to national championships can share the pool with those attending their very first meet.

'NAIG is so much more'

This will be the first lane-swim meet for Helene Maguire, from the Tr'ondek Hwech'in First Nation. She's normally a synchronized swimmer, as is her brother Cameron, who is also on the team.

"I know we're going to be a really small team," said Maguire. "I'm pretty excited."

For coach Hill, the size of the team doesn't faze her. 

"We're a small team, but we've got a lot of power."

We're a small team, but we've got a lot of power.- Shereen Hill, coach

Cassis Lindsay, from the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, has competed at the Western Canada Games, but this is her first time participating in NAIG.

Her sister Rennes, recipient of the Yukon's 2017 Aboriginal athlete of the year award, is also on the team.

"Westerns is just a swim meet... NAIG is so much more," said Lindsay. "It's going to be more exciting. It's going to be educational. You're going to learn things about First Nations culture in Canada that you didn't know before."

A chance to see 'thriving' cultures

As part of the Games, cultural celebrations will take place throughout the week, which will include music, dance and other vendors.

"There's lots of traditional things going on, like dancing and singing," said Maguire. "My mom did NAIG for swimming when she was a kid and she wanted me to experience it."

Shailyn Moore, from the Okanagan Indian Band, participated in the 2014 iteration of NAIG on Yukon's track and field team.

She says the cultural celebrations prompted her to start listening to more Indigenous music.

"I'd never really heard it before so it sort of spiked a new interest," said Moore. 

"I'm mostly excited for the swimmers to enjoy the experience," said coach Hill. "The venue itself and the cultural component and just being amongst their peers.

"I think that seeing the celebration of First Nations and Indigenous people from across North America, and seeing that the cultures are alive and thriving today."

The North American Indigenous Games take place in Toronto from July 16 to 23.