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Big plans ahead for Aboriginal Sport Circle

On just his first day on the job as executive director of the Yukon Aboriginal Sport Circle, Greg Edgelow has his plate full.

On just his first day on the job as executive director of the Yukon Aboriginal Sport Circle, Greg Edgelow has his plate full. The Sport Circle is currently planning events that stretch late into the winter and Edgelow, who just moved here from Vancouver and started on Monday, seems to be on top of things.

“I’ve been involved in sport for about 30 years,” said Edgelow. “I competed in the ‘92 Olympics for wrestling and won the Commonwealth Games in ‘94. I have some aboriginal history of Cree-Metis, so it was a natural fit.”

However, perhaps the most exceptional event on the calendar has yet to be confirmed as the Yukon government’s sports and recreation branch hammers out the details.

As part of the cultural component to the 2010 Vancouver Summer Olympic Games, the Aboriginal Sport Circle may have the opportunity to send a contingent of athletes to Vancouver during the Olympics to demonstrate Inuit and Dene Games, a series of more than 100 competitions derived from First Nations culture and often originating from hunting.

“There’s discussion of potential opportunity,” said Edgelow. “This organization is excited and looking forward to potentially being involved (with the Olympic Games) and we will be selecting and getting ready a contingent of athletes to go down and participate and showcase the Inuit and Dene Games, when and if called upon.

“We’re going to follow through as if this is going to happen so we’re prepared.”

With the idea still in its infancy, the number of athletes potentially being sent to Vancouver - or when and where the demonstrations could take place - is unknown.

“There is a Yukon Day (at the Olympic Games), but I have no idea how they’re going to do it,” said traditional sports co-ordinator with the Sports Circle, Cody Wilkinson.

“How many there’s going to be in the selection process will be determined by how many sport events will be showcased,” added Edgelow.

Similar demonstrations were performed in Whitehorse when the city hosted the 2007 Canada Winter Games and were a big success, said Wilkinson.

“People really wanted to see the sport,” said Wilkinson. “If we said anywhere, ‘Dene Games,’ people wanted to know the history of it, where it came from and why people do the sport.”

Conveniently, all efforts put towards preparing for demonstrations in Vancouver will not be in vain if the idea does not pan out. Wilkinson, who also acts as coach for Yukon’s Dene Games team, has already begun holding practices for the Arctic Winter Games taking place March 6-13 in Grande Prairie, Alberta. The Sport Circle will be holding the Yukon Dene Games Championship November 7-8 in Whitehorse at Elijah Smith Elementary School and it will determine which athletes will compete at the Arctic Winter Games.

“We’ll focus on the (Olympic Games), but also get ready for the Arctic Winter Games,” said Wilkinson.

The to-do list does not end there. Currently the Sport Circle is in talks with the government in an effort to have the Dene Games integrated in physical education programs in Yukon schools from kindergarten through high school.

“The decision makers will be the education minister and there’s been discussion with them on this proposal to get this integrated into the core curriculum,” said Edgelow. “I think this whole opportunity in 2010 and showcasing it to the world is a great segue to the eventuality of having this as part of the core curriculum.

“It could be part of the curriculum in gym class, like where we learned dodgeball and soccer.

“The whole thing is about carrying on tradition, a way of life that existed in the North here for as long as First Nations and Inuit have been inhabiting the North.”

When discussing the activities of the sport circle with its executives, leadership in sports jumps out as an overarching theme to their programs. This is highlighted by a sport and recreation leadership conference the circle is planning to host in Whitehorse during November.

“We’re trying to get the sport and recreation community to come together to participate in our conference as delegates,” said the circle’s sport co-ordinator Gail Anderson. “What we’re offering are professional speakers that we’re bringing in from all over Canada.”

1980 Olympic bronze medalist Steve Podborski and Canadian author and journalist Richard Louv are just two of the speakers the Aboriginal Sport Circle hopes to welcome to the conference.

Of course, their attentions are not limited to aboriginal sports like the Dene Games. In late October, the Sport Circle will be holding its annual National Aboriginal Hockey Championships identification camp.

“We get youths to come out from each and every community,” said Anderson. “We look at them and see where they’re at and pick a number of players to compete in the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships.”

The Yukon Aboriginal Sport Circle is a non-profit society dedicated to promoting both traditional and mainstream sports in aboriginal communities and is one of 13 members of the of the National Aboriginal Sport Circle.

“We believe sport is important for youths of all ages; we believe it helps promote positive choices for youths; we believe it helps build self-esteem, positive awareness and character,” said Edgelow. “We see in the community that it helps build family dynamics. We see parents usually are more involved in their kids’ lives when they are involved in sport; they have to transport them, pick them up, and sometimes volunteer for these things.”

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