The 2015 Alberta Indigenous Games (AIG) is underway in Edmonton; the official opening took place at Rundle Park on Sunday July 12. The event began at 9 a.m. that morning when an elite group of Indigenous runners made the trek from the soccer fields in St. Albert to Rundle Park, the official site of this year’s athletic competitions.
“It’s a beautiful and amazing day and I am so pleased to be here to welcome you to this important athletic event,” began Edmonton Native Ball Association (ENBA) President Martha Campiou, after a brief Cree language welcoming of the athletes, organizers, sponsors, dignitaries and spectators who gathered to watch and enjoy an afternoon complete with colourful regalia, energetic dancers, words of praise from Edmonton dignitaries and welcoming comments from AFN Alberta Regional Chief Craig Makinaw.
Campiou, who’s chaired the Edmonton Native Festival Association since 2011, thanked the Elders for their support and participation and Elder Carlson for her opening prayer. She thanked the volunteers, board members and the many others who put in the time and effort to ensure the 2015 Alberta Indigenous Games would succeed. She also offered words of appreciation to Elder Francis Whiskeyjack, who conducted the pipe ceremony in the Elder’s Village earlier in the day and to Phillip Campiou “for taking care of our spirituality.”
Above all, she added, “I want to thank the Creator for sending us a man who had a vision and a belief in sports for youth, a man who started this campaign years ago and enabled us to host our first games back in 2011. Without his commitment, endurance, and determined belief that this could be done, these games would not happen and we would not be here today – please give a big hand of appreciation to Mr. Allen Ross.”
Campiou finished her introductory comments by thanking the City of Edmonton for its support in 2011 and 2015 and Mike Chow, Edmonton’s Director of Aboriginal and Multicultural Relations, for his efforts on behalf of this year’s games. She also thanked the City of St. Albert for their support in 2013 and honoured Mrs. Gwen Crouse, who was the Committee Chair for the second bi-annual event.
“It’s a pleasure and an honour to be here today to welcome you to Treaty 6 and the 2015 Alberta Indigenous Games,” stated Chief Craig Makinaw, who acknowledged the Elders, the River Cree Singers Host Drum, the volunteers, sponsors and the two Honourary Youth Ambassadors, Monique Makokis and Waylon Auger.
“I was fortunate enough to play at the first Indigenous Games here 10 years ago,” he continued, “so I know how important these games are and what it takes to compete. It’s a great opportunity for youth, a starting point and one that will help you throughout your life. By participating you are part of a team and that’s where your leadership qualities come out, working together with others, something you will be doing for the rest of your life. Your participation here today will also help you in many other ways and your experiences here will be long remembered.”
Alberta Municipal Affairs and Service Alberta Minister Deron Michael Bilous was first elected as the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview in 2012, a feat he accomplished again during this year’s May 5 provincial election. The former high school teacher, who earned his Bachelor of Education at the University of Alberta, has served as a member of the Standing Committee on Private Bills, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections, Standing Orders and Printing, and the Standing Committee on Resource Stewardship.
“It is a great honour to once again have the trust and support of my constituents,” he said moments before the official opening of the games. “I am very pleased to be here today to take part in the opening of this important event.”
Since first being elected three years ago Bilous has been an outspoken critic when it comes to Aboriginal affairs and the way that portfolio was handled by Alberta’s long-reigning Conservative Party. He’s already gained the trust and respect of Alberta’s Aboriginal peoples and noted in a brief interview that “things will certainly change for the better with the guidance and leadership of our new Aboriginal Relations Minister, Kathleen Ganley,” also Alberta’s new Minister of Justice and Solicitor General.
Invited to the podium by Master of Ceremonies Joshua Jackson, Bilous thanked everyone involved with the 2015 AIG and saluted the Elders, Chiefs, veterans, Indigenous leaders and Honourary Games Ambassador Wilton Littlechild, noting “that it is an honour to be here with you today. Through your tireless passion and work in promoting sports you continue to make a tremendous impact on the province and in the lives of our youth, including those here today.”
Bilous said he was delighted to “be here in traditional Treaty 6 territory and Métis lands to bring greetings on behalf of Premier Rachel Notley, the Government of Alberta and my colleague, Aboriginal Relations Minister Kathleen Ganley. Our government strongly believes in sports’ power to foster healthy lifestyles, bring people together and transform lives. As a former teacher at Edmonton’s Inner City High School I have seen firsthand the positive role that athletics and sports can play in a young person’s life.”
Sports he noted help to “instil the values that we as a society all hold dear – values such as honesty, fair play, teamwork and respect for ourselves and respect for others. To the athletes that have come here today to participate in these events, I wish you well. Good luck to you all.”
Personal letters of encouragement from other civic, provincial and Aboriginal leaders also reflect the pride that Albertans share when it comes to hosting the Indigenous Games.
“Edmonton,” noted Mayor Don Iveson, “has been a gathering place for thousands of years. Today, we are home to a vibrant, young and growing Aboriginal population that is poised to lead us into a new era of reconciliation. These Indigenous Games, featuring competitive sports, an Elder’s Village, a powwow, career fair and other cultural activities, are an excellent way to engage and empower the next generation of Aboriginal leaders.”
Premier Notley emphasized that “these games provide all Albertans with the opportunity to explore our shared history and discover the culture and legacy of Aboriginal peoples that is inherent to the story of our province.”
In his letter of endorsement the honourable Dr. Wilton Littlechild said that “globally, athletic sports are intrinsically linked to Indigenous Peoples’ way of life, culture and identities. The AIG focuses their efforts on youth where their participation in the Games will foster self-esteem and the positive sense of identity as an Indigenous person. General sporting activity can provide a sense of healing, wellness and reconciliation. Recently, the Government of Alberta, the City of Edmonton and other communities in the province have proclaimed the ‘Year of Reconciliation’ which is a huge platform for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to work toward wellness, harmony and understanding to enhance positive interactions with each other. I wholeheartedly support the efforts of the Alberta Indigenous Games and as a founder of the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) I know how important it is for youth to participate in events that brings them a sense of joy and accomplishment.”
The biannual AIG includes five days of competition in ten different sporting events, including archery, basketball, volleyball, canoeing, golf, lacrosse, soccer, softball and track and field. This year’s AIG event got underway on July 12 and will conclude on July 16.
by John Copley