Thunder Bay·Superior Morning

North American Indigenous Games a 'life changing' experience for athletes, says Ont. chef de mission

The medals have been handed out and the closing ceremonies held, putting a wrap on the 2017 North American Indigenous Games, and the chef de mission for Ontario says it was a memorable experience for the athletes.

About 5,000 athletes from all over North America competed in Toronto and Hamilton

Marc Laliberté served as the chef de mission for Team Ontario at the 2017 North American Indigenous Games. (Cathy Alex / CBC)

The medals have been handed out and the closing ceremonies held, putting a wrap on the 2017 North American Indigenous Games, and the chef de mission for Ontario says it was a memorable experience for the athletes.

"It's a life changing event for those kids and I've witnessed that over the years that people come back," Marc Laliberté told CBC Thunder Bay's Superior Morning. "They have their eyes opened there are new possibilities for them."

The athletes will return to their home communities as heroes, whether they medaled or not, Laliberté said.

The man in charge of the Ontario team that collected 137 medals — 51 of them gold — has a long history in sports, being involved for over 20 years and including attending six Indigenous games.

"The athletes were validated," he said of the approximately 5,000 participants from all over Canada and the United States. "They actually had a stage to show their best, put their best foot forward and they did that."
British Columbia finished the 2017 North American Indigenous Games with 176 total medals. Ontario finished third. (CBC News/NAIG)

"They knew that they were valued and loved," he continued, adding that the games were a chance for the athletes to be proud of their culture and their identity.

Asked to pick a highlight from the six days of competition that took place in and around Toronto and Hamilton, Laliberté said there were many to choose from.

"The rifle team was kind of my favourite because my son was thrust into the role of being a rifle coach at the last minute," he said, chuckling. "With his military experience, he does know rifle and was able to connect with the two members of the rifle team who were from Pikangikum and Kashechewan."

Helping Manitoba field teams for soccer and softball was another moment that stood out, Laliberte added.

"They were shorthanded and it would have meant they couldn't compete, couldn't attend," he said. "So we reached out and had some players ... and we went through the process of getting them onto their teams."

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