Local Athletes Head to North American Indigenous Games

Athletes from all over North America are making their way to Kjipuktuk (Halifax) Dartmouth, Millbrook First Nation for the tenth North American Indigenous Games, which will run from July 15-23. More than 5,000 athletes, coaches and team staff from 756 Indigenous Nations across North America and 3,000 volunteers will be involved in this year’s event. Edmonton, Alberta hosted the first official NAIG in 1990. Traditionally held every four years, this year’s event is the first one to be held since the 2020 games were canceled due to the pandemic. 

Like the Olympics, the North American Indigenous Games will have both an Opening and Closing Ceremony, with the Opening Ceremony showcasing the Host Nation of Mi’kma’ki. Athletes ages 13-19 will compete in sixteen different sports across 21 venues over the course of the games. Traditional indigenous sports Archery, Lacrosse, Canoeing and Kayaking will have their own Opening Ceremony to begin each event. Other sports at the games are Athletics (includes track and cross county events), Badminton, Baseball, Basketball, Beach Volleyball, Golf, Rifle Shooting, Soccer, Softball, Swimming, Volleyball, and Wrestling. 

Joey and John Gravelle from Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, were selected to be members of the U19 Michigan Basketball Team. Joey and John are both 6’5 and play power forward and center. Their JV football coach, Herb Maloney told them about the NAIG. The tryout process had one of the team’s coaches, Coach Jordan, come up to the Sault where he put the boys through a number of drills to show how well they could play, show their skills, and there were also also a number of team scrimmages. John’s favorite part about playing basketball is that it helps him stay in shape, and he simply enjoys playing the game. Joey enjoys playing because of how intense the games can get. John not only enjoys basketball, but also does weightlifting and football. Joey plays football as well. John named his father Harold as his role model in this sport. “My father pushes me to be my best and taught me a lot of things.” Joey noted that his dad is the one that encouraged him to try the sport in the first place. Joey’s basketball role model is “Kobe bryant with his attitude and mentality”. John is looking forward to traveling to Nova Scotia with his brother to participate in the NAIG, noting, “It’s a lot of exposure and to represent my town and community and Michigan.” Joey added, “It means a lot, it could be a big stepping stone for college.”

Grace Agawa from Sault Ste Marie, Ontario will be representing her family, band and province on the U16 Ontario Basketball team. Grace first heard about the NAIG from her mom, Angela. A 5’9 post who switched to basketball after a few years of hockey, Grace absolutely loves the sport. “I think my favourite thing about playing is just playing. I can never wait for practice. I always have to go early because I cannot wait, I love just playing. It’s the best thing about the game, any chance to play I’ll take.” Grace played on a U19 team at an invitational basketball tournament in Sudbury, Ontario. “The coach said she was going to take me to Halifax, and I was super excited. But then she told me she was going to give my name to the U16 coach because she didn’t realize I was 16. Then the U16 coach accepted me.” Grace has formed a bond with her coach. She shared that he is her inspiration to work hard at the sport. “I think my biggest role model would be my Coach Clay. Even though he doesn’t play the position he is just one of my favourite coaches to play with. He sees the potential I possess and is making sure that others can see it. He pushes me very hard and I’m glad he is.” While Grace spends a lot of time playing basketball, she also enjoys playing video games, going to the gym, and hanging out with her cousin. She’s very excited for this opportunity, and is excited to be able to travel to Nova Scotia with her parents Walter and Angela, and twin brother Ethan. “I think it means a lot to participate in NAIG. It allows me to learn more about my native heritage. And to also play some amazing athletes and see how much I have to improve in my game.”

The local athletes were able to travel to the games thanks to the overwhelming support from their respective communities. The Gravelles had a GoFundMe page, hosted a basketball scrimmage fundraiser at LSSU, and received support from their family, friends and the Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. Grace also had a GoFundMe, hosted yard sales and received support from Batchewana First Nations, the Indian Friendship Center, her family and friends. Families of Joey, John, and Grace are very grateful for the support their athletes received from their communities. 

Team Michigan will start their pool play competition by playing Nova Scotia on July 17, followed by Yukon on July 19 and Haudenosaunee on July 20. Team Ontario will start their pool play competition on July 17 by taking on a team from Alberta first, and then Eastern Door and the North on July 18. The teams with the most points from the pool play will advance to the qualifying round, then quarterfinals, and semifinal games. The basketball competitions will wrap up on July 22 with the finals to determine which teams will take home gold, silver, and bronze medals. 

The games will be live streaming throughout the event, with some on demand options as well. More information on this, and anything else related to the North American Indigenous Games can be found on naig2023.com

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