MILTON: The power of No. 88 for North American Indigenous Games

  • North American Indigenous Games
  • 19/04/2017
MILTON: The power of No. 88 for North American Indigenous Games
TORONTO It is not a number you would normally choose for a symbolic countdown toward a major sports event.

Wednesday, the North American Indigenous Games celebrated the final 88 days before they kick off in mid-July in Toronto and in the Hamilton area.

Not 100 days, not 30 days, not 10, the normal signposts on the way to a launch. Why 88 days? And why is the sub-theme of these games "Team 88?"

Because of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

The commission, which began a holistic chronicling of the abuses of Canada's Indian Residential school system in 2008, recommended 94 "calls to action" when it closed in late 2015.

"And number 88 calls on all levels of government to support the North American Indigenous Games as a pathway for long- term indigenous development," Marcia Trudeau-Bomberry, CEO of the Toronto 2017 NAIG, told The Spectator Wednesday.

So, when the 88 days are done, the 88th call to action will not be just a call, it will be an action.

Vague policy becoming reality. An otherwise forgettable number representing the old horrors, and new hope, emerging from more than a century of institutional exclusionism.

This is hard-hitting symbolism, and it should resonate strongly with the representatives of all 10 provinces and three territories who will be Canada's representatives in the NAIG from July 16 to 23.

Nine states from the United States will also send teams to the first NAIG ever held in Ontario. Toronto is the official centre, but Hamilton is the western hub with nearly 2,500 of the 5,250 athletes in the games being housed at McMaster.

Of the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, four others besides No. 88 dealt with sport.

Trudeau-Bomberry notes numbers 89 and 90 involve suggestions for policy development to decrease the barriers for indigenous athletes to compete in sport and to help decrease racism in sport. Number 91 is a call to major international sporting events to include and recognize indigenous groups, as the Pan Am Games of 2015 did with the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, upon whose traditional lands Toronto was built.

And No. 87 is a call to tell the national story of indigenous athletes, at both the high-performance and grassroots levels.

So, it was almost supernatural that the 88th day out was also the day that a lacrosse legend, the late Gaylord Powless of Six Nations, was named to the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.

"That's huge," said Cody Jamieson, a professional lacrosse player from Six Nations who's considered one of the best in the world and is an NAIG ambassador. "Any time you get someone from our community into a hall of fame like that, it's so important. It gives everyone encouragement."

There are 14 sports on the NAIG calendar, and while only five of them lacrosse, canoe-kayak, archery, softball and soccer will be played out of the "western hub" (Hamilton, Six Nations and the Welland Flatwater Centre) those five involve nearly half the athletes in the games.

Every NAIG must include the three "traditional" sports of lacrosse, canoe-kayak, and archery each with its own deep spiritual and cultural history and this area will stage them all.

As Toronto 2017 NAIG general manager Michael Cvitkovic points out, these are the first games to be run by indigenous and non-indigenous peoples alike. He, for instance, is non-indigenous while CEO Trudeau-Bomberry is indigenous.

Wednesday's 88-and-counting celebration at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto included a locker-room display (call No. 87) of Jamieson's equipment, kayaking equipment from nationally ranked Keir Johnson, and uniforms from some grassroots athletes; cultural displays; traditional dancing; and a podium that included Chief Stacey LaForme of the Mississaugas of the New Credit, Six Nations Chief Ava Hill, Toronto Mayor John Tory, Burlington MPP Eleanor McMahon, minister of tourism, culture and sport, and a couple of federal cabinet members.

Speaker after speaker spoke of the power of sport to build bridges and close gaps between cultures.

"Indigenous people need the opportunity to take our place on the world stage in sport," LaForme said.

The 2017 North American Indigenous Games provide one of those opportunities. So while they might be the 10th such games, in the heart, they're No. 88.
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