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Making Connections Through NAIG

NAIG 2023 will be like no other. For the first time, the North American Indigenous Games will be in Mi’kma’ki as Kjipuktuk (Halifax), Dartmouth, and Millbrook First Nation host close to 5,300 Indigenous youth in July.

As part of our pre-Games coverage, Sport Quarterly spoke with three former NAIG athletes who are participating in different roles as the Games come to their home province.

The three share some of their memories and talk about the importance of NAIG 2023.

Sara-Lynne Knockwood, Sipekne’katik First Nation

As an athlete: Taekwondo — 2002 in Winnipeg, 2006 in Denver. (A three-time gold medallist.)

Mission staff: 2008 in Cowichan, B.C., 2014 in Regina.

NAIG 2023 role: Director of Sport and Venue.

On the connections made: “I think one of the coolest things is you’re there to compete, you’re there with other athletes, everyone is doing their own thing, but also, everyone finds a way to connect. Maybe you throw a ball around, or you hang out outside, get to know each other. There’s other pieces, too, where people will bring their cultural items with them. Oftentimes it will be a drum, and people will gather on their own and create their own opportunities to connect. Maybe they’ll share a drum circle. They’ll share a song. They’ll share a dance. It’s really spontaneous, and I think it’s really special that we’re able to create space and opportunity for that to happen.”

On hosting: “It’s really important to me to help make sure these Games go right so we create that special experience, obviously for the teams coming here but also for the people here to experience these Games.”

Ayden Pierro, Wagmatcook First Nation

As an athlete: Lacrosse — 2014 in Regina, 2017 in Toronto.

NAIG 2023 role: Coach, 16U boys lacrosse

On preparing the players: “The conversations we’ve had so far have been around just the opportunity that we have. Our coaching staff never had the opportunity to play on our territory. Even to coach on our territory in this big of a Games is a super big honour.

“We’re really trying to instil that pride to show them who we are as a nation. Show them the strong, friendly nation that we are.”

Shaniya Vance, Sydney

As an athlete: Volleyball — 2014 in Regina

NAIG 2023 role: Coach, 19U women’s volleyball

On her NAIG experience: “That was my first time, actually, really immersing myself in the culture, trying different cultural foods and just being in an environment where the merchandise being sold was Indigenous, the food was Indigenous and just everybody there was Indigenous.”

On hosting: “I’m involved in club sport as well, and you typically see a lot of talk from stakeholders in sport about doing programs or focusing on the Indigenous population. I think this is definitely the biggest action we’ve seen taken thus far. It’s really important for us to be hosting it here. Hopefully it exposes our Nova Scotia residents to a little bit more about what the culture is like.”





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