The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) would like to congratulate the athletes who competed in the 2023 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in Kjipuktuk (Halifax) on the traditional and unceded lands of the Mi'kmaq from July 15 to 23. These athletes represented their communities and themselves with heart and sportsmanship. We also congratulate their coaches, team staff -- and especially their families -- for their dedication and support.
Team BC sent 535 Indigenous athletes, coaches and team staff to this year's games, where there were more than 5,000 participants from 756 nations. Team BC athletes took part in 14 of the 16 sports and came back home with outstanding results. They brought home 53 gold, 62 silver, and 44 bronze medals, placing second overall in the standings, 17 medals behind Saskatchewan.
We spoke with several Team BC athletes who went to the NAIG to hear about their experiences there.
Nineteen-year-old Jonathan Fraser-Monroe captained the 19U volleyball team. He's from the Tla'amin First Nation, just north of Powell River. Jonathan says he started playing volleyball relatively late, but was attracted to its team-based and rapid-thinking mechanics.
Photo provided by Jonathan Fraser-Monroe.
“Every person only has a fraction of second to change the direction of the ball, you're on the court with six other people who have to move as one to score or defend," says Jonathan. “In other games you can carry the ball for a long time, but not in volleyball. You get one touch and it's a very mental game."
Jonathan says the highlight of the Games for him was being able to travel to the other side of the country and meet other Indigenous athletes and learn about their cultures. He tells a story about watching a volleyball match and ending up speaking with another player from Wisconsin. He says they quickly bonded over their shared love of the sport, attending each other's games and staying in contact even after the NAIG.
Despite the fierce competition, Jonathan says good sportsmanship and mutual respect was evident everywhere.
“I used be a hot-head and cocky, but that changed after playing at Junior All-Native and the NAIG; I found an inner calm by thinking about who I'm representing and the people who got me to where I am, and how they would want me to present myself."
The drive to succeed is a theme all the athletes discussed, and they all had similar motivations.
Eighteen-year-old Syvawn Paul from Sts'ailes and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations took part in the 1,000-, 3,000-, and 6,000-metre canoe races in single, doubles, and mixed doubles. She says she initially felt intimidated as the races were in canoeing, and she's more familiar with war canoeing. She also felt a lot of pressure to succeed.
Photo provided by Syvawn Paul.
But that didn't deter Syvawn. She says once she was able to mentally take pressure off herself, she was able to enjoy being at the NAIG. What helped was knowing how strongly her community was backing her and cheering for her. That gave her an extra push to perform well.
In four days at the NAIG, she competed in six grueling races, winning three gold, two silvers, and one bronze medal. She says the sportsmanship displayed by all competitors really impressed her.
“Even though the competition was tough, everyone was friendly after the race. It was touching to see everyone standing on the first-place podium for photos."
Photo provided by Syvawn Paul.
The canoeing event was also a family event, as her partner for the mixed doubles was her cousin, Cyrus George. Together they won silver in the 6,000-metre and gold in the 3,000-metre mixed-doubles races. She says canoeing is “in her blood" as she comes from a family of war canoers.
“It was never a matter of if I'd take up war canoeing, but a matter of when."
It's a similar story for 15-year-old Terrell Price from the Dzawada̱ʼenux̱w First Nation on Vancouver Island. He was the captain of Team BC's gold-winning 16U boy's soccer team.
Photo provided by Terrell Price.
Terrell says soccer was always in his blood; he comes from a long line of soccer players dating back to his grandparents, and took up the sport when he was only four years old. That family influence meant it was a given that he would try soccer as well. He says it was the support from his family and community that inspired him and drove him to succeed.
Terrell was able to draw on that inspiration during the gold medal match. During extra time, he gained possession of the ball, dribbled past a defender, and seeing a teammate in the box, set up the pass that led to the match-winning goal.
“My biggest memory from the NAIG was hearing that final whistle blow and knowing we'd won," says Terrell. “It was awesome to share that experience not only with my teammates, but also everyone who joined us at the NAIG."
Despite coming from a remote community, Terrell has big soccer plans. He wants to play soccer at the university level, but says he's still pretty young and has time to figure out his future. He's also inspired to continue the legacy of those who came before him.
“When I came home from the NAIG, all the kids gathered around me and were looking up to me. That gives me inspiration to excel and become a leader."
Fifteen-year-old Brooklynn Munch of the Saulteau First Nations in northeastern BC also plans to play softball at the university level. She was the catcher for the bronze- winning Team BC U16 girls' softball team.
Photo provided by Brooklynn Munch.
Her most memorable experience at the NAIG was during the bronze medal game. Team Saskatchewan was up two runs and at bat. They had the bases loaded when the batter hit a pop fly that was caught and then thrown to third and home to end the inning. That was the turning point for the team, and they eventually went to lead 8-2 before the game was rained out.
Off the diamond, Brooklynn was fully involved in the quest to get as many NAIG pins as possible. Not only is she a phenom in sport, but also in trading. She says she started off with six pins, but left the NAIG with 26.
Photo provided by Brooklynn Munch.
Her ultimate dream is to play for Team Canada, and it's a goal she thinks is achievable with hard work and dedication. But Brooklynn says it's not all about her. She credits her parents' support for making her athletic accomplishments possible.
“They work hard for me to be able to play softball, and they drive me wherever I need to be to play or practice," say Brooklynn. “They support me by watching my games and taking me to practices, camps or tournaments."
Parental support is also a huge factor in the success of the other athletes.
“I have great support from my parents," says Terrell. “They've stuck with me and encouraged me. They've pushed me to my limits and they guide me to stay on the right path."
Jonathan says his parents have also provided unconditional support and encouragement for both his interests in sports and theatre. He acknowledges it's that support that has afforded him the opportunities he's had.
“Sports is expensive, and they made cuts to give me that life experience. That made me the person I am today," says Jonathan. “Everything I do, whether it's sports, art or culture, I think about my parents and them telling me that my ancestors are watching and are with me."
A full list of competition results can be found here.