Athletics, reconciliation to come together at Indigenous Games

Reconciliation will be a central theme when Indigenous athletes from across North America gather in Toronto this summer.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission call to action to be a central theme

A poster promotes reconciliation efforts at the 2017 North American Indigenous Games, taking place in Toronto July 16-23. (North American Indigenous Games)

Reconciliation will be a central theme when Indigenous athletes from across North America gather in Toronto this summer.

More than 5,000 athletes will compete July 16-23 at the North American Indigenous Games, where the theme will be Team 88, which references the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 88th call to action directing Canada to support Indigenous sports.

"I think it's important, because we need to understand what happened in the schools in order to move forward and have a positive relationship," said Hannah Morningstar, an athlete and Grade 10 student from Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, 19 kilometres west of Sudbury, Ont., and the Team 88 ambassador for the Games. 

"So we get to reach our own potential and we have the same opportunities."

Team 88 Day

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established in 2008 to examine the dark legacy of Canada's residential school system, released its final report in 2015. 

It includes 94 "calls to action" that urge all levels of government — federal, provincial, territorial and Indigenous — and all citizens to work together to change policies and programs, repair the harm caused by the schools and move forward with reconciliation.

"We call upon all levels of government to take action to ensure long-term Aboriginal athlete development and growth, and continued support for the North American Indigenous Games," reads the 88th call to action.

To mark the call to action, the City of Toronto declared April 19 — 88 days before the Games kick off — Team 88 Day, with celebrations at Nathan Phillips Square at city hall downtown.

Showcasing culture, talent

CBC is the official sponsor of this year's North American Indigenous Games, and will provide exclusive coverage of the event, including a week-long cultural festival that will showcase "Indigenous heritage and cultural distinctiveness," the Games website says.

While bringing Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together is a central theme, the Games are ultimately about the athletes.

Morningstar is a reconciliation ambassador and jingle dress dancer but she's also an all-around athlete in the making who has competed in hockey and tennis and is waiting to hear whether she'll compete in track and field and volleyball at the 2017 Games.

Hannah Morningstar, from the community of Atikameksheng Anishnawbek near Sudbury, Ont., is an athlete and Team 88 ambassador for the 2017 North American Indigenous Games. (North American Indigenous Games)
"The Games are really a great opportunity and it gives us a chance to get our name out there," said Morningstar. 

"It's definitely bragging rights," said Cody Jamieson, a professional lacrosse player from Six Nations who plays for the Rochester Knighthawks and has recently been named an ambassador for the North American Indigenous Games 2017. 

"[Athletes] want to go out and show their stuff, show their abilities — and from the outside looking in, it's great to show how much talent our youth have," Jamieson said.