Almost 50 Cree athletes, coaches and staff travelled to Regina July 19 to for the 2014 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG).

2014 NAIG mascots Buffalo and Young Buffalo alongside Stan Bobb, Chair of Community Development Corporation

2014 NAIG mascots Buffalo and Young Buffalo alongside Stan Bobb, Chair of Community Development Corporation show off the medals NAIG winners will receive in Regina

The Cree last participated in the games in 2008, when they took place in Cowichan, BC. This is the first Indigenous Games since that event, which suffers from insufficient funding.

According to John Gossett, the Director of Recreation for the Cree Nation of Mistissini, the Eeyou Istchee participants placed during Mistissini’s track-and-field and basketball tryouts last summer. These tryouts were not just for the Crees as Indigenous athletes from other nations – mainly from northern Quebec and areas like Sept-Îles – also participated.

The Quebec contingent will again be competing under the moniker of Eastern Door and the North as the team will feature participants from all over the province.

This year’s team will be represented in a wide variety of categories that include various track-and-field events in all age groups as well as the under-19 men’s basketball and the under-19 women’s basketball.

“Most of the communities are represented in the Cree contingent, except for Whapmagoostui and Oujé,” said Gossett. “There are 12 track athletes, two canoers, a volleyball player and eight swimmers along with the basketball players heading to NAIG.”

The games started July 21 and will feature a week of competition and traditional entertainment events that will celebrate Indigenous culture and athleticism throughout North America.

“The training component has been difficult because these kids made these teams last August and they are only going now – a year later,” said Gossett.

Gossett said there has been a particular focus on these games at the recreation department in Mistissini to prepare young athletes for the event. That is why the majority of youth going are from Mistissini, thought other communities were welcomed to participate in the Mistissini teams so that no talented athletes would be excluded.

“We have made the games in Mistissini whether it is the Inter Band Games, the Cree Nation Summer Games or the NAIG. Every year we devote energies to developing our kids to participate in those regional, national and international events,” said Gossett.

According to Gossett, his department has worked very hard to drum up interest in the track and field and other events that these games feature. While there is a tremendous interest in hockey, it is a very expensive sport that demands a great deal of time. Sports like track and field, soccer or basketball don’t require as much financing, however, making them more accessible to all families.

Funding came from the Grand Council of the Crees and its Leisure, Sports and Recreation department as well as the Eeyou Istchee Sports and Recreation Association. The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador is providing transportation for the participants and covering their insurance.

Excitement among those participating and those who will be cheering them on at home is mounting. The only question that remains, is who will come out on top?