The Cree of James Bay haven’t seen this kind of summer games in well over 20 years. They used to be held every year during the 1970s right through the 1990s and were also used to promote Cree culture and customs.
Now, with the Cree Nation of Waskaganish hosting the summer games of 2010, the tradition is reborn.
There were many different sports that drew the participation of athletes from many communities, all the way from Whapmagoostui right through the heart of Eeyou Istchee to Waswanipi. The track and field featured the range of running events, from the 60-metre race up to the 1600-metre run. There was also the team relay, javelin, discus, shot put, long-jump and high-jump events.
For those who are more into team sports you could have joined in the softball, fast pitch, volleyball, basketball, and soccer and badminton competitions.
There were so many activities that I missed but would have loved to have seen or even competed in, mostly the checkers and cribbage tournaments. A Cree Comedy Festival was also organized; I wonder if the Brady Bunch from Wemindji were there. Would have been a blast. But the summer games wouldn’t have been anything without the start of a princess pageant, and the winner was Waskaganish (possibly because she was the only participant, but no less deserving despite the lack of competitors!). The square dance competition is something that the coastal communities are well used to compared to the inlanders. Not that they don’t have skills, but perhaps they are shy about allowing everyone to see their huge talents.
And for those stronger men and women who excel at arm wrestling, leg wrestling, tug of war, the strong-man obstacle course, fox draw or the portage contest, these events represent a cultural connection to the past. Most contestants were able to lift 200 pounds or more. Imagine in the old days where they had to do this on a daily basis. Nine flour bags that weighed 50 pounds each – you do the math. That makes 450 pounds, the amount that I know my late father John Neeposh put on his shoulders to go through portages back in his days.
If you’ve got skills and good aim there was the skeet and target shooting, ball throwing, and home run derby. What would be a sport completely on your skills and aim is the archery contest or even the sling shot contests.
And if you are more into competing all by yourself there was the 10k mountain bike race and badminton. With a strange turn out in this even a lady that started two minutes after everyone had left was still able to come in and pass all the other contestants to win the gold in this event!
Strangely enough, Waskaganish was the only bid to host the new Cree summer games this year. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising: imagine the work involved over the past year. The number of workers needed to get this event going is outstanding. With John-Henry Wapachee, Sports and Recreation Director for the Cree Regional Authority in Nemaska as the head of this main event with a lot of help and support from Charles J. Hester of Waskaganish, the list goes on and on.
The best part about these games was the cultural aspect. Seeing who can boil tea the fastest and who’s brew tasted best. Bannock on a stick: mm-mmm good – but I should have entered this category. I sure wished there was a pie-eating contest that I could have entered.
Meanwhile, there were canoe races as if they were rowing Noah’s Ark since they were using the huge boats that they have in Waskaganish.
Open sports included the longest drive with a cross-country run of either 5km or 10km. Also in this category was the triathlon.
Every evening there was an awards ceremony to give out the medals that were won during that same day.
On Saturday the organizers hosted a feast with beaver as the main course. The moose fried rice was awesome and really good.
Just before the main event started they handed out the medals of the evening to the events that were played during the day, and finally they gave out a trophy that went out to the community that won the most medals. The community of Waskaganish got this special mention.
What event would be complete without a big bang at the end, in other words a special event to close the Cree Nation Summer Games? The concert was supposed to start at 9 pm, but with the delay people got a little out of hand and impatient as they started banging on the doors. Waiting in line for a period of three hours I would myself get a little frustrated and impatient but the show must go on.
With CerAmony as one of the acts with Darryl Hester, it ended with non-other than Claude McKenzie, one of the members of Kashtin. This event went right into the early morning hours. As I have heard from one of the technicians they were finally able to make it out of there at 6 in the morning.
This is an event that brought people from the James Bay area together not only to compete but also to find out more about each other and become friends in the long run. I myself met a few people and made new friends. Till the next time an event like this is organized (maybe every year or two from what I heard), I would like to congratulate all the winners and athletes in their success and achieving a medal either a bronze silver and maybe the gold. Winning isn’t everything it’s the sportsmanship that you require to attend these games that makes us all winners.