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Connecting Through Sport and Culture

Imagine making your way through a wooded trail and then facing a giant orange frog, a boar, a dinosaur, or perhaps even a zombie.

This is the outdoor fun that awaits 3D archery athletes at the North American Indigenous Games, set for July 15 to 23 in Kjipuktuk (Halifax), Dartmouth and Millbrook First Nation.

The wilderness trail in Millbrook is the archery venue and the course will feature 20 three-dimensional foam targets, most of them representing animals, but with a few surprises mixed in. The targets are at varying distances and elevations, so every shot is different. Archers move along the course in groups of four and are scored on the location of their shot within the designated kill zone.

A round of 20 targets usually takes about two hours.

“You’d expect when you hear archery that you’re shooting at a big square target,” says Taylor Hartlen, one of six archers with Team Mi’kmaw N.S. “When you get into the woods and you see these 3D targets, it’s like ‘Oh my gosh, there’s so much coolness to this,’ and different lengths of shots, differentsized animals that you can have fun shooting at.”

Taylor, 17, and fellow archer Alex Paul, 19, were set to compete at NAIG in 2020 but the pandemic forced the Games to be postponed to this year. While many of their teammates aged out of the competition, Taylor and Alex get another chance.

“I’m happy to have a second chance to be a part of this amazing event, to be more connected with my culture,” says Taylor, who lives in Eastern Passage and is from Acadia First Nation.

“I just loving learning from other people of my own culture and getting to share it with others.”

Almost 5,300 Indigenous youth, ages 13 to 19, are coming from across Turtle Island (North America), making it the largest multi-sport and cultural gathering in the history of Atlantic Canada.

Alex, who is from Wagmatcook First Nation, is looking forward to seeing how the Mi’kmaw culture is displayed. Alex’s grandmother will be singing during the Games.

“Culture is everything,” Alex says. “It’s very important to me. I’m doing cultural and spiritual things every single day. I’m praying. I’m smudging. That kind of thing. To be doing archery is also a cultural thing for me. I feel very connected with the whole NAIG going on.”

This will mark the 10th time NAIG has been held, and the host Nova Scotia team will have its biggest contingent yet with about 350 athletes competing across 16 sports.

Archery is one of three traditional Indigenous sports, along with canoekayak and lacrosse.

Jeremy Copp, 16, has attended high-level lacrosse tournaments before but expects NAIG to be unique.

“It’s definitely going to be a big learning experience and a good opportunity to meet a lot of people from all over North America,” says Jeremy, who lives in Hammonds Plains.

For three brothers, NAIG will be the first time they’ve played on the same team at a major event.

Noah, Liam, and Mason Brown range in age from 11 to 14 and will all suit up for the U16 soccer side. They play club with Suburban and are used to kicking the ball around together in the backyard or with friends at neighbourhood fields.

In early May, the three brothers went to the Gold River stop of the canoe relay, a symbolic and celebratory lead-up to NAIG. At the time, it was 74 days before the start.

Now the Games are less than a month away.

“It’s getting closer every day, obviously,” says Mason, the oldest. “I’m nervous and excited at the same time for this chance.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

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