NAIG 2020 chefs de mission get a preview of Halifax's setup for the games
Call for volunteers for July's North American Indigenous Games to go out this week
Around 50 people representing Indigenous athletes and communities across Canada and the United States are in Halifax this week getting familiar with the city's venues for the 2020 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in July.
The visit, which includes venue tours and meetings with NAIG organizers and local partners, is serving as a chance for the group to gather firsthand information about the location of facilities, accommodations, and local attractions.
The games, first held in 1990 in Edmonton, aim to improve the quality of life for Indigenous Peoples by supporting self-determined sports and cultural activities for Indigenous youth across North America. Sports include soccer, baseball, basketball, golf, archery, lacrosse, swimming and canoeing/kayaking.
This year's games July 12 to 18 are expected to draw upwards of 6,000 people to Halifax, from up to 756 different Indigenous nations.
"So far it's been mind blowing. It's beautiful up here," said Matt Roberson, a tribal council member of Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, based in Oklahoma.
Roberson is one of the Native American representatives co-ordinating athletes' participation from the United States.
On Tuesday, Roberson toured facilities at Dalhousie University, where doctors and sports therapists will be set up to treat athletes. The university will also be home to a new addition for NAIG, a "Coaches House" aimed at mentorship and networking for coaching staff.
Roberson said he thinks the games will be a success, given the planning already underway and the hospitality of the Mi'kmaq and Nova Scotian hosts.
"When I went through customs, [the customs officers] were aware of the North American Indigenous Games and asked questions about it, [and] just the excitement around town ... it's going to be great," he said.
Roberson is representing up to 200 Native American youth athletes, and said that aside from all of the games-related information, he was hoping to bring back details on local attractions and activities for those who'll be visiting Canada for the first time.
'Just really excited'
Levi Denny, the Team Mi'kmaw Nova Scotia chef de mission, who's from Eskasoni First Nation, said the collective Mi'kmaw community is anticipating the opportunity to showcase their athletes and territory. He said the 2020 Mi'kmaw Nova Scotia team is the largest it's ever been, numbering around 350 athletes from across the province.
"We're just really excited about that. The role sport plays [in Mi'kmaw communities] is just invaluable," Denny said.
"It gives kids a sense of belonging, it gives them a sense of friendship. Sports in my culture is just second to none ... everybody's waiting to see how we fare against some of the some of the bigger [teams]," he said.
The scouting trip is important because some of the logistics can be stressful for parents of athletes, said Susan House, assistant chef de mission for Team Wisconsin, who is from the Oneida Nation near Green Bay.
"Some of them are frustrated because they don't have enough information about accommodations, the facilities, how we'll all be getting from location to location," she said.
House said in some cases, this will be the first time young athletes will be travelling across state and international borders or travelling without their parents.
"If they're on the powwow circuit they're with their parents, but now [athletes] aren't even going to be with their aunty or someone like that," she said.
"Those types of concerns were something we didn't expect, so we're trying to address that."
Brendon Smithson, executive director of games delivery for NAIG 2020, said the biggest challenge to overcome is transportation.
"It's a big, massive challenge for us and our focus is really on the athletes and making sure that they know that they can get around safely."
Smithson said there could be up to 50 buses a day travelling from hotels to areas and other sites around Halifax and Millbrook First Nation, and it's been a challenge just to track down that many buses.
Smithson said the NAIG 2020 team has around 20 members right now, but will grow to around 40 people in the coming months. The official call for more than 3,000 volunteers will go out later this week.
Smithson said volunteers can be very specific about where and when they'd like to help, and may go through some training depending on which area they choose.