By Judy Bird

Despite having their training disrupted due to wildfire evacuations, athletes from northern Saskatchewan are ready to defend titles in the summer games.

Team Woodland represents the communities of La Ronge, Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, and Montreal Lake – three communities affected by the northern wildfires.

“Those communities, over a three week period weren’t home, and were evacuated to Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert or other places. For them, just to head back home and then prepare for the summer games, I think the summer games will be a nice event for them to attend,” said Mel Mercredi, manager of sport culture and recreation with the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC).

Mercredi added that the wildfire evacuation did set them back with registering athletes for the games. The team asked for an extension, and registration was extended for them until July 24. Since returning home, the teams have been practicing in their respective sports, and are ready to compete.

“We recently had some training camps and practices this week so of course the kids are excited just to be out there and getting ready for the games. Athletes are always excited when they get that congratulations letter that they’re going to be on the team, that they’re going to get a track suit, a competition form bag, and they’re going to be travelling and that their family and friends are going to be there to watch. It’s pretty exciting for them,” said Mercredi.

“We are a pretty strong team,” said Mel Mercredi, manager of sport culture and recreation with PAGC.

The northern tribal council has two teams in the game: Team PAGC and Team Woodland. Each team has about 400 athletes.

“Because we are such a large tribal council, close to 40,000 members, and a lot of youth, we realized that we needed to have two teams. When we’d have try outs for a team of 15, we’d have about 100 kids to select from, and a lot of times, kids that were able to compete at that level just wouldn’t make the team because we had so many kids come out. So we decided to have two teams,” said Mercredi.

In the south, Team Yorkton Tribal Council is also eager for the games to begin.

“We have about 200 athletes, and yes, all are excited,” said Danny Whitehawk, Chef de Mission for the Yorkton Tribal Council team.

The team has athletes competing in all sports except canoeing, Whitehawk said. The athletes are looking to continue their sporting success, and hopefully stay champions as they defend their titles.

“We have had success in fastball and track and field. We will be defending our overall championship for Golf. It’s a title we shared with PA Grand Council last year,” Whitehawk said.

Both Mercredi and Whitehawk see the importance of the games, beyond the competitions and the placements.

“For us it’s all about ensuring our kids participate and have the chance to develop their skills so that they can compete at higher levels in the mainstream sport and in other areas. I’m looking forward to coming to Ochapowace, I’m excited to see colleagues and friends from that area. i know they’re working very hard to get ready and to host us as we come down as well as all the other regions that are coming down,” Mercredi said.

“I have been involved with the summer games for 20 years,” said Whitehawk, adding that it is a great opportunity for the youth. “I always look forward to having our athletes take part in the summer games, and for them to have the opportunity to move forward to the North American Indigenous Games.”




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