The North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in Halifax, Nova Scotia has come to an end with Team Yukon finishing with 39 medals — 20 gold, 10 silver and nine bronze.
Team Yukon had a contingent of more than 130 athletes, coaches and mission staff. Eight Yukon communities including Watson Lake, Dawson City, Mayo, Teslin, Carmacks, Haines Junction, Pelly Crossing, Ross River and Whitehorse represented the territory.
The multi-sport competition had representatives from 756 Indigenous nations in North America to celebrate, share and reconnect through sports and culture.
The Games ran from July 15 to 23 in the territories of Kjipuktuk Dartmouth and Millbrook First Nations. Team Yukon represented the territory in 11 sports.
A July 24 release from the Yukon government said a cultural contingent and Yukon First Nation elders shared their stories with more than 3,000 participants from across North America.
On July 17, day 3 of the competition, Prezley Jobin secured Team Yukon’s first medal at the Games, a bronze medal in the canoe/kayak category.
On the final day of the competition, Team Yukon’s 3D Archers won four medals. Phoenix Widney won gold in the 19U female barebow class. Mya Wilson won bronze. Dawson Widney earned bronze in the 19U male barebow division, while Kael Epp made it through the semis and into the gold medal final in the U16 compound where he got silver.
Heavy rain and thunderstorms on the final day of the competition led to the cancellation of the closing ceremonies of the Games.
Rifle shooting coach Trena Irving said the team has been practising for the Games since January. The team produced some of the highest number of medals at the competition for the Yukon contingents. However, Irving explains that her coaching philosophy is to never go into a competition and expect medals.
“I tell my athletes and anyone who is shooting in a competitive discipline, that you might be shooting quite well and might have a really good chance of getting a medal, but we won’t know until we get there and see how the competition is,” she said. “Our kids shot remarkably well. But even the kids who didn’t win any medals, I want to point out that I just don’t believe in medals; I believe in improvements. That’s my first goal.”
She told the News: “I don’t think any of us had the impression that we were going to go there and dominate but when we did go there, we did dominate.”
Chef de Mission Gael Marchand said “We are very pleased with our team’s participation, and we are very grateful to the host for running such a well-organized and friendly event here in Mi’kma’ki.”
Marchand said the athletes had a great time competing in the nice, warm weather in Halifax.
“These Games celebrated Indigenous youth, Indigenous identity and sports achievements. It will be a long-lasting memory for our Indigenous youth, one they can be proud of and carry along on their journey to becoming who they are,” he said.
Assistant chef de mission Karee Vallevand said it was a good learning experience to work with the team during the Games.
Vallevand said all of the athletes are inspiring the next generation of Indigenous athletes with every game.
“Our expectations are for the athletes to have the best Games experience possible, create positive life long memories and make new friends,” she said, adding that they witnessed a few emotional moments, including the duo of Jamie Nickel and Jennifer Tuton from the U19 female beach volleyball team winning a bronze medal with all the family and supporters cheering them on.
“Our athletes reaching out to our team elders to see if they were available to smudge with them and watch them compete was so heartwarming and it showed the respect they had for the culture,” Vallevand said.
The swimming team put up sterling performances during the Games. Vallevand said they knew the swimming team was strong and would be on the podium, but they definitely impressed and had an amazing showing at the Games.
“The U14 girls basketball (team) played hard against some powerhouse teams like Ontario, Manitoba, Minnesota. Just to see the girls get stronger as players each game and a team is so inspirational. I hope to see some of these athletes participate at the 2027 Games as athletes or even coaches.”
Vallevand said a big highlight of the Games was the opening ceremony with local artists performing. The parade into the Scotia Centre in Halifax was “pretty cool, lots of fun and crazy exciting.
“The host society did a phenomenal job planning and executing getting all the contingents to the arena. Team Yukon’s flag bearer Kassua (Gínnet’ā) Dreyer from Ross River captured (six) medals and her younger brother Tuja Dreyer came home with six gold medals. The medals themselves were works of art that showcased Mi’kmaq art including the traditional eight pointed star and the colours of NAIG 2023.”
The Yukon government provided financial support of $585,000 to the team during the Games through the sport and recreation branch. In the July 24 statement, the Yukon government congratulated the team for their impressive performance at the Games.
Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn said the athletes showed remarkable performances at the Games.
“Your success has made the Yukon and your communities proud,” he said.
Mostyn thanked the coaches and mission staff for dedicated support not only during the Games, but every day.
Deputy Premier and Education Minister Jeanie McLean said it was a great honour to be in Halifax with Team Yukon to cheer on the athletes as well as celebrate the Games with many First Nations across North America.
The next edition of the Games will take place in Calgary in 2027. Vallevand said her hope is to see the capacity for all the age groups built up over the next four years so Team Yukon can take a full contingent to the competition, including baseball, softball, and maybe even a female lacrosse team.
Team Yukon has participated at the NAIG since its inception in 1990. In the 2017 edition in Toronto, the team finished with 23 medals; the 2014 edition in Regina saw Yukon bring home 11 medals while the 2008 in Cowichan saw the team win 17 medals.
Contact Patrick Egwu at firstname.lastname@example.org