As It Happens

Kahnawake soccer player represents Canada at inaugural World Indigenous Games

For the first time, athletes from around the world are competing in the World Indigenous Games in Brazil.
(Left) Rachel Leborgne is a Mohawk soccer player from Kahnawake, Que. (Right) Pataxo Indians from Brazil pull on the rope during the tug of war competition at the World Indigenous Games, in Palmas, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015. (Facebook/Eraldo Peres/AP)

Rio de Janeiro is gearing up to host the fast approaching 2016 Summer Olympics. But this week a different group of international athletes descended on Brazil. The remote city of Palmas is the site of the first-ever World Indigenous Games. Athletes are competing in traditional sports such as spear throwing, tug of war and racing with heavy logs -- along with better-known sports. And Canadian athletes are taking part.

Rachel Leborgne at her graduation. (Mia Phillips)

"I never thought I would have made it to this point in my soccer career and to be able to be a part of this is an amazing achievement for myself and all the girls who made the team," Rachel Leborgne tells As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch.

Leborgne is a Mohawk soccer player from Kahnawake. The 18-year-old is representing Canada at the inaugural games with the Canadian First Nations women's soccer team. Leborgne says she and her teammates are thrilled to be playing on the international stage.

"It's just an amazing thing to be here -- to meet all the new people and be a part of the first-ever World Indigenous Games."

(Mia Phillips)

Leborgne says that about half of her teammates are of Mohawk descent and that the rest are from the Kwakwaka'wakw nation in British Columbia. Like most of the teams, Leborgne says they've only had minimal training and few opportunities to build chemistry. Nonetheless, the team is off to a great start. Their last match against a Brazilian tribe was a blowout 16-0 win. But Leborgne admits her team had an unfair advantage.

"I'm not sure exactly which one the tribe was, but it was their first time wearing all the proper equipment on an actual field," Leborgne explains. "I think they were just playing barefoot so I think it was weird for them to actually have cleats on."

Despite the score, Leborgne says there were no hard feelings between the two teams.

"After that we shook hands and we spoke to the girls because we have our translator with us. We were telling them we respect them."

An indigenous man from Canada dances during opening ceremony of the World Indigenous Games, in Palmas, Brazil, Friday, Oct. 23, 2015. Billed as the indigenous Olympics, the games are expected to attract athletes from dozens of Brazilian ethnicities, as well as from such nations as Ethiopia and New Zealand. (Eraldo Peres/AP)

Leborgne is confident her team will bring home a medal. But competition aside, Leborgne says she is even more excited to learn about the other cultures and share her own traditions.

"Most of our girls wore the regalia at the opening ceremonies and we came in and we have the Saskatchewan people here and they were playing our songs and we were doing our dances," Leborgne explains. "Really getting to know the other tribes and learn their traditions is a huge aspect of why we are here and getting indigenous people out there and knowing that we are here and we are important."

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