Journey of a Generation
24 Jun 2008
On August 3rd, thousands of Indigenous people from across Canada and North America will travel to the Cowichan Valley to take part in the 2008 North American Indigenous Games.
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The 2008 North American Indigenous Olympics
On August 3rd, thousands of Indigenous people from across Canada and North America will travel to the Cowichan Valley, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, to take part in the 2008 North American Indigenous Games. Becky Daniel reports on this amazing event.
Coined as the alternative Olympics, Cowichan 2008 is an international celebration of youth, sport and culture, where the emphasis is on pulling together across the waters of cultural divides. ‘We all have a heartbeat; we are connected; we are all here for the warmth and protection of one another,’ explained Lucy Thomas from the Cowichan 2008 Volunteer Centre. ‘Just like in a canoe, it won’t work if we aren’t all pulling in the same direction.’
Now in its seventh year, the event will host more than 7,000 athletes competing in 16 sports, while 2,000 performers will entertain the crowds and 3,000 volunteers will ensure the Games run smoothly. Their slogan, Nuts’amaat Shqwaluwun, translates as working together to help one another’ or One Mind ñ One Heart.’
This amazing event brings together rigorous sporting competitions, tribal art and music, good food, great company and ancient wisdom, all set against a stunning backdrop of sea and rugged mountains.
Thirty teams of athletes, representing diverse Indigenous First Nations from North America and Canada, will compete in traditional and contemporary events, ranging from archery and badminton to volleyball and Tae Kwondo.
A key aim of the Games is to build a legacy of new, meaningful and lasting relationships between and within communities. After the negative impact of centuries of colonialism, the First Peoples are working positively together to help rebuild a sense of pride and self-worth within their culture. Through co-operation, they want to inspire the younger generations to connect with their proud history ñ to feel a sense of belonging in the present and to reach their full potential.
Lara Mussell Savage, Aboriginal Participation Specialist, who took part in the 2006 Games, said: ‘I was so proud to see firsthand what a tremendous opportunity the Games provided for Aboriginal athletes to demonstrate their incredible skills and talents. Not only are they participating as athletes but they are also organisers, coaches, managers and volunteers,’ she added. ‘The Games provide a forum for building confidence and self-esteem, as well as individual and collective prideÖ and this is so important for Aboriginal youth. It was such an honour to see them fully participate in this international event and watch youth celebrate the link between sport and well-being.’
Each tournament takes place in a different location. This year’s venue, Cowichan, means land warmed by the sun’ in the local First Nations language, Hul’qumi’num. Located on the east coast of Vancouver Island, Cowichan is an idyllic land of mountains, ancient forests, fresh lakes and rivers. This fertile valley has been home to the Cowichan Tribes for more than 4,500 years. Although it is now a modern society, their rich ancestral history and cultural traditions are woven deeply into the pattern of daily life.
Artists carry on the traditions of carving, canoe building, singing and dancing, while Elders actively pass on their history through story-telling.
With strong support from the communities of Cowichan Valley and from both its Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders, the organisers successfully secured the 2008 Games through an international bid process. This unique sporting and cultural event is now, for the first time, a partnership financially supported by the Canadian and British Columbian Governments, the Aboriginal Sport Circle and the host First Nations Tribe.
The 2008 Games will be preceded by the largest ever Tribal Journeys Canoe Voyage. Eighty traditional ocean-going canoes, from a variety of First Nations groups, will converge upon Cowichan. Canoeists will travel from as far away as Tlinget on the Alaskan border and Oregon to the south. When they pull up onto the shores of Cowichan Bay on July 28th, particpants will be greeted with a traditional welcome ceremony to symbolise the respect due when one Nation enters the territory of another.
An artistic element to the Games will be provided by 32-year-old artist Carey Newman, who has been commissioned to carve a moment in history. He will sculpt a 20 foot cedar log into a traditional Spirit Pole with the help of some 10,000 people. The story pole will tour 45 communities before being presented to the Aboriginal Team British Columbia’ at the opening ceremony.
‘This project is about family and generations and bringing people together,’ Carey said. ‘The pole’s design incorporates traditional imagery like the wolf, the salmon, the eagle and mountains. It symbolises the strength of a People and represents my belief that the way to move forward is by honouring the past and reflecting on the present.’
Over 20,000 participants and spectators are expected to attend the Opening Ceremonies in August. After a bold and colourful parade of Indigenous athletes, the celebrations will be diverse and plentiful. The Quw’utsun’ Centre will host a Cultural Village, where films, music, exhibitions and meetings will take place everyday. At the marketplace, visitors can watch demonstrations and buy hand crafted items.
The athletes will receive a level of attention and care to rival that of the Olympian athletes but perhaps with a deeper spiritual dimension. The Cowichan Community Centre will be transformed to look after the participants’ physical care and comfort. As well as good food and up-to-the-minute results, they can make use of the services of the Elders, who will be on hand to offer their advice and support.
We wish everyone involved an enjoyable and successful time, whether an athlete, artist, host or visitor. To finish with a few words of Hul’q’umi’num relevant to our magazine: ‘Yath ch’ot’lhq’il,’ which translates as: ‘be positive!’
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