More than 1,400 Mi’kmaq and Maliseet athletes from across New Brunswick are in Eel Ground First Nation near Miramichi, N.B., this week to compete in the 2016 New Brunswick Indian Summer Games.
Athletes aged 5 to 19 from 11 of the 15 Mi’kmaq and Maliseet communities in the province are competing athletics, basketball, volleyball, soccer, badminton, golf, canoeing and archery.
The games officially got underway following an opening ceremony held at the Miramichi Civic Centre Tuesday afternoon. As each community team was announced over the loudspeaker, athletes marched into the civic centre to cheers from the stands while wearing their official community team t-shirt and holding a community banner.
“Organized games play a really important role in the health of our youth,” Eel Ground Chief George Ginnish said during the opening ceremony.
“It’s an opportunity for them to not only build sporting skills but friendships,” Ginnish said.
“You’re going to make friends and they’re going to be your friends for your entire life,” he said.
Amethyst Murphy, 18, who plays on the volleyball team in Eel Ground, can relate to that statement. She says she is looking forward to meeting up with friends she made at previous summer games.
“I have some friends from (Esgenoopetitij First Nation) actually that I’m going to be going against,” Murphy said following the opening ceremony.
Murphy’s team beat Esgenoopetitij for the gold medal at the 2015 summer games in Woodstock First Nation, N.B.
“Hopefully this year, we can do it again,” she said.
Organizers raised $70,000 to host NB Indian Summer Games
Organizers in Eel Ground, also known as Natoaganeg in Mi’kmaq, decided to hold the track and field events a week earlier due to the number of competitions and athletes registered to participate. More than 400 athletes competed in track and field last week.
Brandy Polchies, 34, from the Kingsclear First Nation, N.B., was one of the coaches for her community’s track and field team. She decided to become more involved in this years’ games after watching her nine-year-old daughter, Tatum, compete in the previous year.
“I’ve come to find out that I have a little track and field star,” she said.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that. I was quite overwhelmed with the feeling of so many First Nations people coming together to support the children in athletics,” Polchies said.
Polchies’ daughter won a bronze medal in the 200 metre race, a silver medal in the long jump competition and a gold medal in the 100 metre race at this year’s games.
Her daughter also qualified to compete in track and field with her school at this year’s provincials.
The organizing committee for the 2016 New Brunswick Indian Summer Games was able to raise $70,000 to host the games by sending out letters to all of the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet communities in the province as well as to the City of Miramichi. Organizers also received funding from both the federal and provincial governments to host this year’s sporting event.
“The City of Miramichi is amazing,” Kara Martin, a member of the organizing committee, said. “They gave us all of the facilities at no cost,”she said.
Eel Ground First Nation is the seventh community to host the summer games since they were revived in 2010. Previous summer games were held in Elsipogtog (2010), St. Mary’s (2011), Eel River Bar (2012), Tobique (2013), Esgenoopetitij (2014) and Woodstock (2015).
The New Brunswick Indian Summer Games was an annual event that first began in the 1970s. The last summer games before 2010 was held in the late 1980s.
Athletes at this summer games event are also competing for spots on the New Brunswick team at the North American Indigenous Games in Toronto in 2017.
The 2016 New Brunswick Indian Summer Games wrap up on July 30.