Carson Roche has been one of the busiest people in Yellowknife these last few weeks. Just ask him.
On Wednesday afternoon, the events manager at the Aboriginal Sports Circle of the NWT was putting the finishing touches on the inaugural Indigenous Summer Games, which kick off Thursday morning at St. Pat’s High School.
Athletes and participants are expected to make the trip in from Alaska, Yukon and Nunavut, in addition to those from host NWT.
“It’s been a few crazy last few days,” said Roche on Tuesday afternoon. “I’ve had about 50 calls for this and that, making sure we keep on top of things. We have the officials that have come in, athletes arriving and confirming their sports. If I’m not doing something for 10 minutes, there has to be something I can be doing.”
The event was officially launched this past January with the idea coming from Shawna McLeod, the Sports Circle’s then-community development manager, following her trip to the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (WEIO) in Alaska, one of the largest traditional games events in the world, to see how that event is run.
In talking about the launch of the Indigenous Summer Games in January, Roche said the event is designed as a way for those who are interested in traditional games to keep competing after aging out of the Traditional Games Championships, which is only open to those from 10 to 12 years.
“For the kids who turn 13 or 14 after the Traditional Games Championships, we want to let them know that there will be something for them,” he said at the time. “The championships have been a huge success, but they fall in love with it and then they have nothing except the Arctic Winter Games. We want to give them a chance to compete beyond that.”
The four-day event will feature a mixture of Northern and Dene games with cultural performances scheduled for each of the four evenings. A cultural market will also be open on Saturday between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. in conjunction with NWT Arts. Athletes will start registering on Thursday morning at 9 a.m. with the ring toss kicking off the sport competition on the outdoor turf at St. Pat’s at 11 a.m.
That’s followed by the triple jump at 1 p.m. indoors, Dene wrestling takes place outdoors at 3 p.m. and the swing kick indoors at 5 p.m. The official opening ceremony will start outdoors at 7 p.m.
The opening was to include a feeding of the fire, but Roche said the current fire ban in the city forced that to be cancelled.
“We were supposed to have a tea boiling event, but that’s off, too, because of the ban,” he said.
There was a meeting planned for Wednesday afternoon to go over all the details, including how to replace the events affected by the fire ban, he added.
“The judges and officials know what they’re doing, they’ve done this many times,” he said. “I’m just hoping the opening ceremony will go well.”
Once the action is done on Friday, the Tetlit Gwich’in Jiggers and Paulatuk Dummers and Dancers will put on a show at 7 p.m. Saturday evening will feature a cultural gala hosted by the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) at 7 p.m., with a fashion show being the main event that evening. Sunday will feature the medal presentations and closing ceremonies starting at 4 p.m.
Byron Kotokak will be one of those who will be competing. He’ll be taking part in events on Friday and Saturday and he said he’s excited to be part of the first-ever event.
“I’ve been looking forward to it ever since Carson brought up the idea,” he said. “I know I’ll be missing a few events but I know I’ll be doing the airplane, the one-foot high kick and I’m looking forward to doing some of the Dene games, especially the archery and the axe-throw.”
The plan for the event is to host it biennially in the off-Arctic Winter Games years, said Roche, so athletes can have a chance to play when they aren’t training for the Games.
“They can do the Arctic Winter Games and then we can get them competing in this event,” he said. “It’s great for traditional sports because now there’s another option for those who want to stay with it. I’m hoping it will be the first of many and we have everyone come out and take part. It’s open to anyone, no matter your background. If you want to join, you’re welcome.”
Kotokak has no doubt that this will become one of the big sporting events in the North.
“I can see this going a long way,” he said. “For some of the older guys who still like to compete, this is perfect to help keep their traditional knowledge and history alive. It’ll be memorable for a lot of people, for sure.”