North American Indigenous Games

Wrestler among northern Ontario athletes making their mark at Indigenous Games

Northern Ontario reserves are faced with challenges due to their remoteness, but that hasn't affected their ability to represent their communities at the North American Indigenous Games, including Adam Cameron-Land, who won silver in wrestling on Wednesday.

Adam Cameron-Land, 17, wins silver medal in 130-kilogram men's wrestling competition

Wrestling coach Tara Hedican, left, with Adam Cameron-Land and his father, Adrian Land, before Cameron-Land's gold-medal match in the 130kg category at the North American Indigenous Games in Toronto on Wednesday. (Rhiannon Johnson/CBC)

Reserves in northern Ontario are faced with a lot of challenges due to their remoteness, but that hasn't affected their ability to represent Team Ontario and their communities this year at the North American Indigenous Games.

"It took four years of training a whole community to get one athlete here," says Tara Hedican, coach for 17-year-old wrestler Adam Cameron-Land, who is competing in the 130-kilogram men's division.

Cameron-Land is from Wabaseemoong First Nation north of Kenora, Ont., near Grassy Narrows. The area has been affected by the mercury poisoning in the water system in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Currently, Wabaseemoong First Nation is under a boil water advisory. Cameron-Land isn't sure how long this advisory has been going on because they happen so frequently, but he's happy to be competing in Toronto this week.

Hedican, who is also team manager, said she has been coaching Adam since he began wrestling four years ago and is here this week to support him.

"It's a chance to give back to the sport and support our young athletes," she said.

Cameron-Land, in red, and Alonzo Haack, in blue, from Team Wisconsin face off in Wednesday's gold-medal match. (Rhiannon Johnson/CBC)

Hedican is no stranger to the wrestling ring. A junior champion herself, she competed in the 2002 NAIG in Winnipeg and also carried the flag for Team Ontario. Her family comes from Eabametoong First Nation, also known as Fort Hope.

Her two young sons are with her at this year's NAIG — and were playing on the mats during the lunch break Tuesday — along with her sister, who is due with her first child the next month.

Hedican said she brings her children to the games with her because that's what her parents did when she and her sister were younger.

"You stand there when you're young and can see yourself competing someday," she said, adding that the games have been exciting for her two boys, who may compete in the future.

Graduation rates in northern reserves are far below the provincial averages. Hedican says sport offers another avenue for Indigenous youth to access higher education.

"There's a lot of racism that still goes on with the national teams, so this is nice to see them compete. It helps get our kids into university and college," she said.

'I'm proud of him,' says dad

Adrian Land, who is Cameron-Land's father, has also joined him at NAIG this week.

"I'm proud of him, he put in a lot of hard work to get here," he said.

A crowd watches the wrestling finals inside the Toronto Track and Field Centre on Wednesday. A total of 13 teams from across Canada and the United states came out to compete in wrestling at this year's North American Indigenous Games. (Rhiannon Johnson/CBC)

In the end, Cameron-Land won a silver medal that he's going to bring home to his community, while Alonzo Haack from Wisconsin took the gold.

Cameron-Land said it feels really good to be competing at his first NAIG. He added that he hopes to see more wrestlers, especially from his community, in the future.

"NAIG is a gathering place for Indigenous athletes," said Hedican.

"It gives them a chance to be proud of where they're from and showcase their talent. There's few Indigenous athletes at the top, so hopefully NAIG continues to happen and it can lead to more support for the youth and sports."

Team Wisconsin also won a trophy for the men's wrestling team, with the highest overall points. The wrestling award ceremony was held Wednesday night at the Track and Field Centre.

Follow along the latest NAIG action on our live blog.