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North American Indigenous Games to resume in 2023

In 2017, Team Florida was represented in the opening ceremonies of the North American Indigenous Games in Toronto by, from left, Trevor Thomas, Conner Thomas and Eecho Billie. The games are scheduled to return in 2023. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

The North American Indigenous Games, which attracts thousands of young Indigenous amateur athletes in an Olympics-style format, will resume in 2023, six years removed from its previous competition.

The NAIG Council announced Monday that the games will be held July 15-23, 2023, in the Canadian Atlantic maritime province of Nova Scotia. Halifax and Millbrook First Nation will be the main hubs. The region was originally scheduled to host the games in 2020, but the pandemic forced it to be postponed.

“In light of recent events around the continued history of residential schools, we hope the announcement of NAIG 2023 and the lead-up to the games will uplift and inspire youth and families across Turtle Island (North America) in a good way, and they can look forward to celebrating their cultures and stories in Kjipuktuk,” Shannon Dunfield, council president, said in a statement.

In recent weeks, news has emerged about the discovery of hundreds of graves, many containing remains of Indigenous children, uncovered at sites of former residential schools in western Canada.  

Halifax is the ancestral territory of the First Nations’ Mi’kmaq, which call the city Kjipuktuk.

The Canadian government will provide up to $4.5 million (CDN) in incremental costs due to the postponement of the 2020 games in addition to the $3.8 million it already committed, according to the council’s announcement.  Also, the Province of Nova Scotia will contribute $2.5 million in addition to the $3.5 million it already committed.

“The North American Indigenous Games play an important role in the development of young Indigenous athletes, coaches and artists by providing them with valuable training, competition and artistic experiences,” Honorable Steven Guilbeault, minister of Canadian Heritage, said in a statement.

The council provided the following age eligibility for the 2023 Games:

19U: 2004 and later

16U: 2007 and later

14U: 2009 and later

NAIG hopes to bring together more than 5,000 participants from more than 750 Indigenous nations.

“The Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia are very pleased and honored to host all nations of Turtle Island in 2023,” Chief Norman Bernard, president of Mi’Kmaw Sport Council, said in a statement. “The games will inspire our youth to reach goals and dreams that will change their lives forever.”

NAIG’s athletes compete on teams that are named for the province or state they come from. About two dozen athletes from the Seminole Tribe represented Team Florida in the last NAIG, which was held in 2017 in Toronto and other parts of Ontario.  Three Seminole athletes won gold medals (Eecho Billie – two gold medals in rifle shooting, Sammy Micco Sanchez – wrestling, Conner Thomas – archery).

NAIG’s sports are: archery, athletics (track & field), badminton, baseball, basketball, canoe/kayak, golf, lacrosse, rifle, soccer, softball, volleyball, swimming and wrestling.

The six-year span between games is the longest gap since the games’ inception in 1990. Here is a list of where and when previous NAIGs were held:

  • Edmonton, Alberta (1990)
  • Prince Albert, Saskatchewan (1993)
  • Blaine, Minnesota (1995)
  • Victoria, British Columbia (1997)
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba (2002)
  • Denver, Colorado (2006)
  • Cowichan, British Columbia (2008)
  • Regina, Saskatchewan (2014)
  • Toronto, Ontario (2017)

In other news, the council announced Brendon Smithson as the CEO of 2023 NAIG.  Smithson, who has served NAIG as an executive director, was recently named to the board of directors for the Aboriginal Sport Circle, which is Canada’s governing body for Indigenous sports.

NAIG’s athletic competitions and opening ceremonies, such as this one in 2017, attract thousands of young Indigenous athletes from across Canada and the U.S.
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Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is senior editor. He has worked for The Seminole Tribune since 2014. He was previously an editor, photographer and reporter for newspapers in Southwest Florida and Connecticut. Contact Kevin at kevinjohnson@semtribe.com.
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