Thunder Bay

Indigenous athletes hit the court in North American Indigenous Games tryouts

Dozens of young Indigenous athletes are hitting the courts, and mats, in Thunder Bay this weekend in hopes of earning a chance to represent Ontario at the upcoming North American Indigenous Games.

City hosts basketball, wrestling, volleyball tryouts on the weekend

Arianna Wigwas, 15, was one of about two-dozen young Indigenous athletes trying out for a spot on one of Ontario's basketball teams, which will compete at the upcoming North American Indigenous Games. The tryouts will continue in other cities across the province over the coming months. (CBC News)

Dozens of young Indigenous athletes are hitting the courts, and mats, in Thunder Bay this weekend in hopes of earning a chance to compete at the upcoming North American Indigenous Games (NAIG).

The city is hosting tryouts for basketball, wrestling, and volleyball on the weekend, three of the 14 sports included in the games, scheduled to take place in July in Halifax.

"We're moving around the province to hit every corner that we can, to get as many kids involved as we can," said Marc Laliberte, president of Indigenous Sport and Wellness Ontario, which is overseeing the Ontario tryouts.

On Saturday, about 24 basketball players were running drills on the court at Dennis Franklin Cromarty (DFC) High School, as coaches looked on.

One of them was 15-year-old Arianna Wigwas, a member of Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek, aIso known as Gull Bay First Nation. She competed in basketball at the 2017 North American Indigenous Games.

"It was probably the best experience of my life," she said. "Just seeing all my people come together, interested in the same things, wanting to get better. The culture was so good. Just an awesome experience all-around."

Wigwas said Saturday's tryouts were going well.

"Basketball means so much to me, and playing with people just like me is just an awesome experience," she said. "Everyone works so hard all the time. It really just brings a community together."

NAIG is 'life-changing'

Laliberte said DFC will also host the volleyball tryouts, while wrestling tryouts will take place at Lakehead University on Monday.

"Ontario takes an Indigenous team of around 500 athletes," said Keir Johnston, high-performance manager with Indigenous Sport and Wellness Ontario.

"We're having tryouts throughout Ontario, in ... larger, urban settings where our communities can travel in, have hotels, and have great facilities like this," he said at DFC.

Johnson said the tryouts are a confidence-builder for the athletes.

"Some of these kids, maybe, [are] looking to make their high school team," he said. "This just builds confidence to go and actually get an understanding of what a tryout is."

"The opportunity to go to NAIG is life-changing," Johnston said. "I went to NAIG when I was 13 years old, and it changed my life. Got me into multi-sport games, and progressed me into wanting to continue my athletic career."