Lorna Storr is an Elder from Aklavik who took part in the Indigenous Summer Games in Yellowknife from June 30-July 3, as both a participant and an officiant.
She shared her thoughts afterwards on her experience coaching, and some of the deeper meanings behind athleticism, her work, and the future of the Indigenous Summer Games.
Lorna started working as a teacher in the local school and she has been coaching youth here in the North, ever since.
“I was teaching for a few years in Inuvik, and I started working with students there. I liked to encourage athletic programs or events because I believe it’s important. It gives them something to look forward to.
“I’ve noticed and I’ve heard comments from parents with children in sports that it keeps them motivated to do better, personally, for the athletes – and to do well in school – besides keeping them in shape, and living a healthier lifestyle. So that’s why I like to work with kids, and encourage them and let them know that it’s important.
“My first games was in 1986. It came by chance because they were looking for a coach and nobody really had time, so I thought “OK, I’ll do this for a few weeks”, and, well, it went on to be Arctic Winter Games for several years since.
“We had outdoor events but it was unorganized, which made it so fun. We just went out and played whatever game there was, not realizing that kept us active and busy. People were able to help out a lot more.
“Today it’s kind of sad because technology has really taken over personal lifestyles of even youth and children. They are not out as much as they should be, or parents would like them to be. But they are living sedentary lifestyles now, so that’s kind of worrying for their health and lifestyle, or the long-term effects of not being so active.
“We went to residential (school) as children, so our parents were on the land people. They spent their year, you know, they were kind of nomadic, right? Full time fishing and trapping. For Christmas they’d go up in the mountains to hunt the caribou, and then back to trapping in the spring, and then fish camps in the summertime.
“We lost a lot of our traditional games because we didn’t do those in the school, until the Arctic Winter Games started, actually, and they involved Dene games and Northern games, which was quite interesting. Those came out and now we have all our traditional events – because actually, when you think about it, camp life played so much demand on people. Everybody had to be strong and able to work for long periods of time, especially during the winter. They had to have pain endurance, strength, resilience, whatever else to be able to provide for their families. They had to go hunting, and really, when you think of it, our Elders’ Elders had very little in the way of guns, or hunting equipment. That’s where they do the “stick pull” or the “greased stick,” when they’d get to a creek and they’d see fish swimming and literally reach right in there and grab fish. It was very interesting, I remember my father telling me, and they’d just enjoy it! Now, you imagine icy cold water and us doing that…
Like ‘reaching into icy waters’
“And then finger pull there was to endure, to persevere, again. Pain endurance. They would carry the fish home. And my dad said it wasn’t one finger to a fish either. They would get a
willow — and this was from checking nets also — they would string up to ten fish on a willow branch, and each finger would have that.
“You look at three fingers, with a willow with like ten fish each, you had to have strength and pain resistance to be able to do that.
“So, yes, the stick pull resembles reaching into icy waters, most times, to grab fish and to throw them out, you know, on the bank, or snow, to take them home.
“And the finger pull was to strengthen your hands or your fingers for that very activity. And also women were stretching hides, mainly the moosehide, because they had to prepare all their
hides for all sewing and their clothing. They had to have strong fingers to stretch that moosehide over that frame to prepare it properly. If it wasn’t prepared properly it wouldn’t be any good for
using, to, you know, create their clothing and stuff.
“There really are more stories behind each event, you see, than what ends up on paper. And all of this is to showcase our cultural traditions – to show that we share stories through songs, dances, and games. We need to let people know that we survived. We’re here out on the land with these traditional skills.
And, more so, our grandparents. I don’t know how they did it, you know. You had to hook up the dog team, you had to hold those dogs to take to the harness to put them in, so your fingers had to be strong, your hands had to be strong. You had to be agile, you had to be quick to move. And even to go through those trails with the dog team, you had to be physically fit.
And all this reduced the risk of disease. I mean look at disease today — diabetes and dementia, cancer — especially the rise of diabetes. All these activities, they strengthen our body, our bones, and muscles, and our ability to do all these activities that are out on the land and in our daily lives — chopping wood is one of them!
So all of these things are so exciting, and I am hoping to do more of that with youth here.”
Speaking of her hopes and visions for the future of the Summer Games, she said: “I think there will be way more participation, more athletes from outlying communities. You know, this was the first Indigenous Summer Games being held, so I’m not sure if everyone got the information that they needed to really know what all this was about. But now that it’s off the ground, everybody can see what’s involved. It’s gonna be huge.”