Saturday, July 30, 2022

Young First Nations athletes travel to Ottawa for a multi-sport event. CBC Sports

Editor’s note: This story was originally published on July 30, 2022. We’re seeing it again today for the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.

Seventeen-year-old Gabrielle Landry’s volleyball team Triple Trouble has won its first set at the Ontario Summer Indigenous Games. He’s happy, but OSIG isn’t happy with his game in 2022.

“Our skill and our effort were fine, considering that this is the first time we have been able to compete together as a team,” she said.

Landry’s summary – we are good, but we can be so much better – speaks to the untold number of young Indigenous athletes in Ontario nowadays. Almost every First Nation in the province can see that their young athletes, especially their team players, have battled through years of forced isolation brought on by COVID-19.

Indigenous Sport and Wellness Ontario President Mark Laliberte called OSIG a reset switch. The four-day gathering of young athletes is a chance for hundreds of children, their families, their coaches and their communities to reap the benefits of sport and competition.

Watch l Indigenous children compete in the Ontario Summer Indigenous Games:

Ontario Summer Indigenous Games

In #OSIG2022 hundreds of Indigenous children aged 13-18 from the province of Ontario are participating in nine sports. After two years of lockdown, this is your chance to identify talent for the upcoming North American Indigenous Games in Halifax in 2023.

Laliberte also likens the sports and cultural festival to a test balloon. Everyone involved welcomes the return of the big bets contest, and at the same time, everyone is a little out of practice. That’s why OSIG is partly about the here and now – and partly about gearing up for the biggest event in Aboriginal Games, the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG), coming to Halifax in 2023 . For kids ages 13-18, this weekend is not only their first competition in years, it’s a step up for NAIG. There’s nothing like the backdrop of a promise of merit to intensify panic.

That’s why it’s heartbreaking to see and hear them, again back in the mix, packing the University of Ottawa’s gym with volleyball and basketball games. Everyone is enjoying coming back to the old familiar voices, squeaking sneakers, the thundering chants of DEFENCE, the whistle of the referee, the cries of teammates and parents and siblings. Everyone who has come here is loud and proud, excited and grateful, and at the same time, well aware of how many more young players are still out of the house.

Generalization has its limits, but a basic truth about indigenous sports in this province is that the further north you go, the less competitive opportunities there are, and the community has to take its children to their athletic test. One has to dig just as deep to have a fighting chance. Capabilities.

sluggish effect of lockdown

Kerry Andrews is the manager of sports and entertainment for the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan. His people are the hosts of OSIG. They are only an hour’s drive from the nation’s capital, but here too, in a land of relative opportunity, she can see the lingering effects of the lockdown that hit First Nations so hard.

“We’ve seen our youth become isolated, in an isolated community. We haven’t forbade them from participating. And now that things are reopening, we’re still getting them into things again. Struggling to participate.. It hasn’t changed them in a good way and it’s really hard to watch, because they are so young and they should be active and involved and curious, but they took a step back Those other communities that are really isolated? I feel bad for them.”

Which makes Treaty 3’s athletes show even more impressive along and up the northern shore of Lake Superior. Earlier this year, the region’s sports manager, Tania Cameron, had a very ambitious plan to bring four volleyball teams and one or two basketball teams to OSIG. Sandhi 3 Titans (Volleyball) and Swishish (Basketball) will be represented by 45 children and five coaches. This would mean a lot of fundraising. It’s a 26-hour drive from Kenora to Ottawa, and some kids had to take even longer flights or drives to get to Kenora in the first place. So how hungry is this community for youth sports? Cameron rolled into Ottawa in a bus and car convoy: 60 athletes and eight coaches strong.

Under the sunny July skies at O’s Diamonds and Track’s U’s, a full slate of softball and track and field competition is shaping up through the weekend. The Geezy field is being heavily used in a range of high-intensity football training and skills clinics. The game’s levels are a revelation. It’s not easy or fair to single out an athlete from one of the many fleet legs, but Timmins’ Amber Okimaw has ball skills that quietly capture the attention of spectators. She pretty much lets her game do the talking, but Okimaw is too polite to refuse some questions. She has been playing since class one, picked her up in the school yard. Speaking of schools, Amber’s football will be taking her to some famous places. Cal State is on the list. So is Blue Fields State University in West Virginia. Invitations are coming to the camps.

It is impossible to seize such opportunities, in the absence of consistent performance of the game.

fighting for an equal playing field

Victoria Marchand, former Gigis star and national women’s tribal soccer team player, is on the pitch, volunteering, helping promising young players hone their skills. She says that when she saw and heard this crop of players, her jaw dropped.

“Soccer is a language” she says “and it’s so beautiful to see these young people speak it.”

She hopes to coach the boys’ team at NAIG in Halifax. He is looking for under-18 talent.

“In sports, we don’t get the same opportunities as non-Indigenous kids. We have to leave our homes and communities behind to pursue elite sport. I just want to give back. I want these kids to be born.” Get a chance to play. The sport they love at the national level.”

The athletes are there. The skills are there. The flamboyant young talent is knocking at the door.

Ontario Summer Indigenous Games continue through the weekend. The practice and efforts for NAIG will continue till the coming year. The fight for Ontario’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities to give their children an equal playing field continues unabated.

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