Traditional Indigenous sports take centre stage at 25th Arctic Winter Games
Each event is a feat of strength, balance and agility that could be performed in tight confines of an igloo during the dark winter months
Fort smith, nwt.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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In the 1970s, politicians and community leaders in Canada's northern territories inaugurated the Arctic Winter Games.
The first Games were in Yellowknife in 1970 and were attended by then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. One thing noticeably absent from the competition was traditional Indigenous games, which have been played in the north for generations. A group of northerners from the Beaufort Delta – including Edward Lennie and the Northwest Territories' first female premier, Nellie Cournoyea – decided to make the case for their introduction by demonstrating some traditional events at the first Games in Yellowknife.
It would be another two iterations of the biennial competition for the Arctic Sports (formerly known as the Inuit Games) made their debut at the 1976 Games in Schefferville, Que.
Gerry Kisoun, a long-time advocate for traditional Arctic sports and former deputy commissioner of NWT, who helped organize the demonstrations in the early 1970s, said, "This is our Olympics."
Each event, Kisoun said, is a feat of strength, balance and agility that could be performed in tight confines of an igloo during the dark winter months.
"These games go hundreds of years back. I played them and my father played them and his grandfather played them," he said.
In the early years the AWG only featured teams from Alaska, Yukon and the Northwest Territories. They now have nine circumpolar delegations, including Greenland, Yamal (Russia), Alberta North, Nunavik, Sapmi and Nunavut, which separated from the NWT in 1999.
This year's Games are being jointly hosted in the Northwest Territories between the communities of Hay River and Fort Smith, which have a combined population of no more than 7,000 people.