Nunavut youth on their way to indigenous games
“I feel like I’ve already accomplished something big”
CAMBRIDGE BAY — It’s 7 a.m. and she’s already laced up her running shoes.
She wipes her eyes with the inside of her arm to wake herself up. And on the count of one, two, three — she begins her morning sprint.
“My favourite part of basketball and even training for basketball, is it keeps me in shape and away from trouble,” says 14-year-old Alysha Maksagak, who recently left for Regina to compete in the 2014 North American Indigenous Games which run from July 20-27.
For Maksagak, this event is the highlight of her entire summer.
She is one of three athletes from Cambridge Bay who will take part in the two-and-a-half week trip.
“I’m really looking forward to playing with my new team,” says Maksagak. “This will be our first time playing and competing all together.”
Maksagak left Cambridge Bay with two of her teammates — Linda Howard and Suki Hogalek — who all play on their community team, the Cambridge Bay Wolverines.
Four girls were chosen from the Wolverines because of their outstanding performance at the last territorial tournament, but only three will attend NAIG since one player got injured.
Their journey to Regina begins in Iqaluit where they will meet their Team Nunavut teammates and train as a team before heading to Regina to begin competing at the NAIG.
The NAIG event hosts young indigenous athletes from all over North America who will compete in 15 different sports from archery to wrestling.
For basketball, each territory, province or American state can enter two teams —one male, one female — of 12 players or less in each of the three age groups allotted for the basketball: under 14, under 16 and under 19.
This year’s event will be the 8th since the games were created in 1990 in Edmonton, Alberta. It has grown to the point where it now hosts more participants each year than the Arctic Winter Games.
With more than 20 teams in Maksagak’s age group alone competing for the championship this year, she says she has had to train extremely hard to prepare.
“I did sprint training and jogged to the airport every single day for two weeks,” she says. “We did workouts in the gym and then lots and lots of shooting drills three times a week because sometimes I used to hesitate in games. I needed to feel more comfortable with the ball.”
But she knows that all the training will pay off when the games begin and her nerves disappear.
The CEO of Regina 2014 NAIG, Ron Crowe, can’t wait for the games to begin either. He’s excited to show how he’s put his host-town’s personal touch on the event this year.
“It’s truly an honour to host so many tribes and participants from all over North America this year,” he says. “Each host puts their own special addition to it and each time the games take place, there are always new, added attractions.”
And Crowe says this year’s additions showcase more than just the participants’ sporting talents. He says one of the committee’s goals is to provide the athletes with somewhere to continue to embrace their traditions.
In an event that hosts so many various cultures, it was just as important to NAIG coordinators to showcase the breadth of indigenous culture in North America as it was to provide a venue for high calibre sport.
“This year, we are really proud of building the cultural village at the university,” he says. “The games are continuing to grow and show off the culture and traditions of the players, as well as their skills as athletes.”
Maksagak is looking forward to learning about the traditions of other athletes at NAIG but for now, she is just happy to have the opportunity to represent Team Nunavut.
“I’ve reached my goals of making a team higher than just my community team,” says Maksagak. “I feel like I’ve already accomplished something big.”