As the announcements were made, it quickly became evident that the team representing the Yukon at the North American Indigenous Games has plenty to be proud of.
Friday evening at Elijah Smith Elementary School in Whitehorse, Team Yukon held a pep rally in honour of the 130 athletes, coaches and officials travelling down to Cowichan, British Columbia, for the Games.
Along with the spectacle of the team gathered in the gymnasium in the their red-and-black uniforms and the splendour of the Ta’an Kwachan Dancers, the news of the honours bestowed on Team Yukon brought loud applause from the audience.
“The host society has recognized Team Yukon as a very special team,” said Diane Strand, chief of Champagne Aishihik First Nations, president of the Yukon Aboriginal Sports Circle, the Yukon representative of the North American Indigenous Games Council and a board member of the Cowichan host society.
“There are roles that some of our athletes will be playing when they get to the opening ceremonies.”
Two of these are fairly significant — witness and leader of the athlete’s oath.
“When the Cowichan people have a ceremony or they have some public function they ask specific people to be witnesses to it,” said Strand.
“Because First Nations cultures is based on oral history, they have to ensure that that person will be able to tell the story again. So they have to be very sensitive of what’s going on. And they have to have that ability to tell the story.
“It is their responsibility … so 10 or 15 years down the road, if asked what happened at that ceremony, they have to recount it.”
Team Yukon member Selena Kaytor has been chosen to fill this role. Kaytor was a member of Team Yukon girls’ hockey team in the 2007 Canada Winter Games and a two-time participant at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships. She will be participating in volleyball at the Games.
“To be picked as a witness is of very high significance,” added Strand.
Josh Kelly, member of the Glacier Bears Swim Club, a participant in the 2007 Western Canada Games and a current member of the training squad for the 2009 Canada Summer Games, will be assuming the role as an oath leader.
Kelly is taking to the pool for swimming events at the games.
“The oath is to say that they’re going to participate in a fair manner,” said Strand. “We are so thrilled to bits. Out of the whole games there’s only one male and one female, and Team Yukon’s male got picked.”
And, the honours do not end there.
At the opening ceremonies, Team Yukon members Riley Tobin and Jasmine Gordon will be raising a Spirit Pole that has been crafted by carvers from throughout BC.
Gordon participated in the 2007 Western Canada Games, this year’s Arctic Winter Games and the 2006 Aboriginal Games. She will be competing in badminton.
Tobin is representing the Yukon on the golf course at the Games.
Also directly involved in the opening ceremonies is Andy Pauls, who will be a flag bearer for Team Yukon. Pauls competed in the 2006 North American Indigenous Games and was an alternate in the 2007 Canada Winter Games. In Cowichan he will be competing in archery.
The North American Indigenous Games have been taking place every three years since 1995 (except for when the 2005 Games were postponed a year to 2006). Team Yukon has competed in every Games.
“We do really well in rifle shooting and archery, which is nice because they are both traditional sports,” said Strand. “The Games have four traditional sports and we’re really good in those two.”
In the 2006 Games held in Denver, Colorado, Team Yukon brought home 27 medals, including five golds and 12 silvers.
The Yukon is sending nine teams to compete in athletics, archery, golf, rifle shooting, girls’ soccer, boys’ soccer, badminton, swimming and volleyball.
Team Yukon will not be competing in basketball and canoeing.