A total of 180 athletes from each community in the Beaufort Delta Region participated in the seventh annual Northern and Dene Games Summit that took place at Inuvik’s East Three Secondary School from March 6 to 9.
“This is one of the very rare times and – at least at this scale – it is by far the biggest event that the Beaufort Delta Education Council hosts for their students,” said Colin Pybus, the school’s gym teacher and lead organizer for the games. “It’s a fantastic showcase of athleticism and competition, but also of the two cultures.”
The idea of the summit, he continued, is to promote traditional culture, whether students come from Gwich’in or Inuvialuit backgrounds.
“These are traditional games that individuals will have played for eons leading into this,” he said. “In a lot of cases, it’s a revival of the loss of these games. These games, for a long time, were on life support.”
Cultural games that students engaged in throughout the summit included the one-foot and two-foot high kick, the wrist hang, the head-pull, the stick-pull, the snow snake toss, snowshoe racing and a hand game competition.
“There’s a wide variety of events – regardless of what type of athlete or whatever body or person you are – there is an event that you can be successful at,” he said. “There is a game that you can be good at, if you’re at the right mindset and you’re motivated to participate.”
The students were divided into six categories that were based on their age and gender: 12U, 15U and 19U. The highest number of participants came from the 12U female division, with 60 athletes, followed by 34 athletes in the 12U men division.
“Getting them hooked, getting them learning and knowing of the games at an early age is going to be essential. It’s very synonymous with every other sporting event or sport,” Pybus said. “If you can build enjoyment, understanding and comfort with it early, the more likely that the individual is going to participate in those events going forward.”
There was also a record breaking number of female athletes, with 99 female students compared to their 81 male counterparts.
“It’s fantastic to see that all the ladies outnumber the guys this year,” he said. “I think it’s wonderful. It’s a tribute to everyone feeling included and no restrictions on participation.”
The summit began with a traditional feast for the athletes and their chaperones that was prepared by East Three Secondary students and Chef Rich Francis, a contestant for Top Chef Canada who visited Beaufort Delta communities throughout the week.
Following the feast, a drum dance kicked off the opening ceremonies, where a number of guest speakers such as Mayor Natasha Kulikowski and NWT Senator Margaret Dawn Anderson spoke before the crowd.
A new feature that was added to this year’s summit was a drum-making workshop that was hosted by Randall Tetlichi, who came in from Old Crow, Yukon.
One student from each participating school was selected to be community’s cultural aspects representative. Tetlichi helped the students build a drum and also taught them a new song for them to play. By the end of the summit, the students would be able to teach their peers back home how to make a drum, as well as a song for them to perform.
The summit ended with a prayer song led by Tetlichi and the cultural aspects representatives, followed by medals that were handed out to students from each division.
Kobe Keevik, a 17-year-old from Mangilaluk School in Tuktoyaktuk, received eight medals: four gold and four silver. He became the first athlete in the Summit’s history to finish in the top three in all of the events.
“They can be successful in these games. It might not be the one-foot high kick, but there is an opportunity for you to be successful, even if it’s just interacting with other people,” Pybus said. “It’s that interaction, that camaraderie, that friendship piece and just being good sports towards each other, regardless of where you’re from.”