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Local athletes share their NAIG experiences


“It was one to remember, it was really colourful. Having all those youth in one area just felt powerful knowing that we have indigenous athletes that can make it far is just a great feeling,” Gabby Umpherville said when describing the opening ceremonies at the 2017 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG).
There were a number of athletes from both Opaskwayak Cree Nation as well as The Pas who attended NAIG, and for many of them it was an experience to remember.
With over 5,000 athletes from all over North America it was one of the biggest indigenous sporting events on the continent, from coast to coast, from Canada to the United States there was much to experience at NAIG.
“It’s an experience that I wish to relive because it was amazing; there was over 5,000 athletes, 22 regions, 88 teams, teams from New York, Wisconsin and all that, all the provinces around Canada and being able to represent your own community like Opaskwayak Cree Nation, and your own province Manitoba at an international level in one of the largest sports and cultural celebrations on the continent, it’s an honour,” explained Umpherville who competed in Female 19U Athletics.
The Games took place from July 16 until July 23, lasting a total of eight days; eight days of sporting events which took place all over Toronto.
“The feeling of getting ready for a race, going at the starting line, that’s when all the girls introduce each other. I met girls from Washington, from B.C., from all over. It was pretty good, was fun,” said Kienan Scribe, who won four gold and four silver in U16 Male Swimming.
Scribe’s favorite part of NAIG was the opening ceremonies.
“The opening ceremonies, it was just beautiful and all the athletes were there,” said Scribe, adding that winning those medals was all in the moment.
“It felt cool I guess,” said a humble Scribe.
There were two teams who stole the show however, and those teams were British Columbia and Saskatchewan according to Umpherville.
“The two best teams I would say were British Columbia and Saskatchewan, they had been testing their youth all year so they trained all year round and it shows at the competition because they were really competitive athletes. They pretty much won every race, but for me I try my best to keep up with them, I gave it my all,” Umpherville said.
As an indigenous athlete, Umpherville was very proud to compete in NAIG.
“Knowing that we reached that level of competition, it’s a feeling that you can’t describe that you worked hard for it, that the hard work paid off,” she said.
Her absolute favorite part was the closing ceremonies however.
“It would have to be the closing ceremony, that’s when all the teams were there and everybody mingled and created new friendships I guess. That’s where all the teams traded gears, I had a Manitoba hoodie and I traded that for a Yukon sweater and a Yukon hat, so it was pretty good, pretty fun and it was pretty cool,” said Umpherville.
Umpherville ran the 3,000, 1,500, 800 meter races as well as the 4x100 and 4x400 meter relay races, in addition to the cross country six-kilometre run.
This was also a big opportunity for the people of OCN to shine in the spotlight and make a splash. There were a total of 34 athletes from OCN, who went to NAIG 2017, and those athletes participated in soccer, basketball, volleyball, canoeing, athletics swimming and wrestling, but it wasn’t without its hiccups.
“There were issues with the heat there; our athletes weren’t used to it. With soccer they had to close down soccer for a while because there was heat exhaustion from some of the athletes not used to the weather there. My part was to make sure our OCN athletes were looked after, but the host society they did a wonderful job looking after 5,000 athletes and getting everything prepared for them, like trip’s from one area to (the next),” said Barney Monias, the Assistant Recreation Director for OCN Recreation who helped out with the OCN NAIG athletes.
One soccer player who participated in NAIG was thankful for family members who helped fundraise for him to go to NAIG.
“I’d like to thank my mom first, if she didn’t fundraise I would have never have been there. It was fun playing soccer and stuff,” said Mason Young, a Male 16U soccer player.
While Team Manitoba U16 in soccer didn’t fare too well it was still a time to remember for a long time to come. Team Manitoba U16 faced off against Saskatchewan on July 17, with Saskatchewan winning 5-3, two days later they dropped a game against Alberta 5-0 before rounding out their games with a 2-1 loss to Ontario, finishing fifth overall.
In years before there were a larger number of athletes who attended NAIG from OCN, but due to some changes in the way NAIG is organized there were fewer people from different communities all over Canada who attended the games.
“In the past they had about 200 before, so we were below there but the way they have it worked now with the league its like 34 is around average. We do have more athletes that made it more into soccer, that’s where most of our athletes competed around here,” Monias explained.
Umpherville also had some words of wisdom for aspiring athletes, saying that you should never give up and work hard.
“I highly recommend trying out for any sport that you would like to do, you just need to have passion and motivation and to work hard for it because hard work pays off in the end,” she said.

Trevor Wright