Monday, July 31st 2023

So that’s it. The 2023 edition of the North American Indigenous Games has come to a close. Though we got back last week, so many thoughts are going through my head and it took me a bit of time to decompress. With that being said, I thought that this might be a good time to share some of my thoughts and impressions about my trip.

We went into these games with a very young team. With the exception of one or two athletes, all our wrestlers came to the competition with training around two year’s or less. Covid and injuries played a huge part in us not being able to field a full team. Nevertheless, the athletes that competed gave it their all in every match often against opponents with way more experience. As a coach, watching them perform was extremely gratifying and I couldn’t be happier. You want success for your athletes but at the same time, you know that sometimes just coming out was a victory in itself. In this aspect, Team EDN excelled, both on and off the mat.

The unofficial sport of every major games: pin trade

The wrestling and the accommodations were held at St-Mary’s University. With such close access to the facilites, this made the commute that much easier. With access to all public transit, making our way around the city was pretty easy which leads me to where we spent some time after the tournament was over. Part of the mission statement for the NAIG is to provide cultural activities for all to see. The host nation takes this on as they seek to educate all visitors to the games about their history and traditions. Therefore, access to a Cultural Village, filled with shows, food and other events was available at the Halifax Commons. While the weather prevented us from spending too much time there, what I did see was pretty interesting and gave me some good insight which as a teacher of Social studies, was an invaluable experience.

Some images from the Cultural Village

For team EDN, we the coaching staff came together very quickly. Communication went well and seeing how well the younger coaches performed leaves me with great confidence that the future of Team EDN is in good hands. For my first stint as Head Coach going into a major games, it was both an honour and privilege to mentor these young coaches. In the past, I’ve either coached or coached against them as athletes. To see them progress to the next level makes me think I may have put myself out of a job!

One of the things that I was happy to have done was going to see a lacrosse game. After all, if I’m going to be at the NAIG, then watching a lacrosse game is almost a must. I was fortunate to have seen the semi-final game between Eastern Door and the North and British Columbia. While the results weren’t what I had hoped for, it was an entertaining game and I learned a lot about the sport by watching a live game.

Scenes from the Lacrosse venue as Team EDN faces Team BC

Another part of the games that doesn’t get enough credit for is the work that was done behind the scenes by the coaching staff. With nine young athletes, our goal was to make sure that we kept them busy and that they did things as a team. This meant planning some excursions as well as other field trips after the competition was done as well as having them eat their meals together as a team both before and after the competition. Halifax is a beautiful city and there wasn’t a shortage of things to do. In addition to the Cultural Village, we were able to take the athletes to the Halifax Harbour. While site-seeing and purchasing of souvenirs was a must, we were fortunate to get a small break in the weather so that they could go on a guided tour of the city via an amphibious vehicle. This was a unique experience as pretty much no one on the team had taken a tour like this before.

The wrestlers enjoying the “fabulous” weather at the Halifax Harbour

On board for the Harbour Hopper Tour

The final part of my overall experience was the parade held to honour the athletes in Kahnawake. Participation was high as the athletes boarded pickup trucks and waved to the enthusiastic crowd as the community of Kahnawake celebrated their athletes. Once again, this was a unique experience, different from any Opening or Closing ceremonies as I got to feel the genuine affection from the people on the sides. It felt more personal as well. To see the athletes having such a good time was also gratifying as our experience from the games came to a close.

Wrestlers enjoying themselves during the parade

Look at the size of this convoy!

Team EDN athletes pose for a picture at the end of the parade

Team EDN wrestlers pose for a final team photo

All in all, my experience from the NAIG will go down as one of my most memorable ones. I got to explore different aspects of my coaching as a Head Coach while functioning as a leader for a young group of coaches and managers. I was also humbled by my acceptance from the community and the team as many of them were athletes that I had never coached before. It’s with this, I want to thank my good friend Peter Montour for entrusting me with this great responsibility. Being Head Coach for Eastern Door and the North has been entrusted to him for many years and through this time, he has guided many young athletes and teams to success at the NAIG. To say that this was probably difficult for him to hand it off as he was promoted to Mission Staff, was probably an understatement. I just hope that I was able to carry on his legacy and traditions while at the same time, imparting some of my own. With that being said, as my first and last experience at the NAIG, onwards to the next one being held in Calgary, Alberta. Go Team EDN!

Team EDN coaches after they get home with medal winner Ava Hamelin