You might not know it, but we First Nation people have played and enjoyed our own sporting activities for hundreds of years. Summer activities and games were part of life as they were times to use up extra energy and to spend time with family and friends. It was a special time to be able to come together in large groups. Before settling in small permanent communities, my people along the James Bay coast lived a traditional nomadic lifestyle which was lonely and meant that people spent very little time with other families. When people met at gatherings, activities and sports were played by just about everyone in every age group as a way to socialize.
There are even legends that involve sporting activities. I have heard several stories my Elders told of young men who played a kind of game of soccer or football with others out on the tundra north of Attawapiskat. They played with a ball made of old pelts rolled into a sphere that they kicked around.
Before Europeans arrived my people were playing and competing with others in our own unique way. Now we have the North American Indigenous Games. This event was created for First Nation people to compete in several different sports and celebrate the culture and heritage of Native people. This year the games were held in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It was expected that over 7,000 participants representing First Nation, Metis, Inuit and Native American people were to take part in the 10-day event which ran from July 25 to August 4. In addition, up to 3,000 cultural and traditional performers took part in the games by entertaining and educating spectators during the multi-day event. It is important to note that participants also included individuals as young as 13 to adults and people with disabilities.
There are 16 different sporting fields that the athletes take part in at the Indigenous Games. These include three traditional sports: 3-D archery, canoeing and field lacrosse. Sixteen other mainstream sports are also played during the games. As part of the celebrations of Aboriginal and Metis people several participants took part in a four-part traditional journey to the event. They participated in the Tribal Journey to the Forks of Manitoba by travelling to the games through four separate and distinct journeys by Red River Cart, Horseback, York Boat and Canoe.
I was happy to hear that this year a young man from our area in northern Ontario was chosen to play at the Indigenous Games. James McKay was invited to join the all Ontario basketball team. The 18 year old from Mattagami First Nation was encouraged and supported by his community, Wabun Tribal Council and his family and friends to attend the games.
People forget that First Nation people are the originators of lacrosse and very possibly hockey. We should all be proud that young Native people have the opportunity to keep an old tradition alive.