B.C.’s hopes high to repeat NAIG success in 2017, and maybe in lacrosse too

Thursday, June 29th, 2017 8:09pm


Image Caption

B.C. girls under-19 lacrosse team training for NAIG (photos courtesy of ISPARC)

By Sam Laskaris
Windspeaker Contributor

British Columbia athletes participating at this year’s North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) will be looking to duplicate their historic performances from three years ago.

This year’s NAIG, expected to attract more than 5,000 athletes from across Canada and the United States, will be staged July 16 to July 23 in Toronto.

At the last NAIG, which were held in 2014 in Regina, the B.C. contingent ended up winning the over-all medal standings by capturing 160 medals (63 gold, 49 silver and 48 bronze).

That marked the first time British Columbia had won the over-all team title at the Games, which were first staged in 1990. The Games had been previously held on seven other occasions.

B.C. not only finished atop the medal standings, but it was also awarded the John Fletcher Spirit Award. This award is named in honour of one of the NAIG founders.

The chef de missions from all of the participating squads vote on the spirit award. It is presented to the club whose members best exemplify the spirit of teamwork, integrity, respect and fair play.

B.C. became the first team to win the medal standings and the spirit award in the same year.

“We made history,” said Lara Mussell Savage, who was the B.C. chef de mission at the 2014 NAIG and will continue in the same role at this year’s Games. “We’re definitely proud of that.”

Mussell Savage would love to see the B.C. entry defend both its over-all medal award and its spirit accolade in Toronto.

Even those who will be representing the province for the first time in the NAIG will be well aware of B.C.’s previous successes.

“Our kids will all know about it,” Mussell Savage said. “We have a four-minute highlight reel that’s been playing on our social media from the last Games. And we will be showing it at a pep rally our team will have before the Games in Toronto.”

For Mussell Savage, this will actually mark the third time she is part of the B.C. contingent at the NAIG. She was an operations assistant for the B.C. entry for the 2008 Games held in Denver.

B.C. will be represented by 420 athletes in Toronto. They’ll be competing in various age groupings in 14 sports. They are archery, athletics, badminton, baseball, basketball, canoeing/kayaking, golf, lacrosse, rifle shooting, soccer, softball, swimming, volleyball and wrestling.

Athletes were named to teams after championships and tryouts run by the provincial sports body, the
Indigenous Sport, Physical Activity and Recreation Council (ISPARC). These ISPARC tryouts and championships began last August and continued until April.

As their medal count indicated, B.C. athletes had quite a bit of success in various sports in Regina.

“We earned medals in every sport except lacrosse,” said Mussell Savage.

B.C. officials are hoping to also have some medal winners in lacrosse this time around. They are also thrilled to have a female under-19 club that will be taking part.

This marks the first time female lacrosse will be included in the NAIG.

“They’re pumped,” Mussell Savage said of the B.C. female lacrosse side. “They’re super excited to be a part of this.”

Five teams will be competing in the female box lacrosse tourney in Toronto.

The B.C. female lacrosse entry will be led by head coach Savanna Smith, who is from Delta, the municipality that is part of Greater Vancouver. Smith, who has Blackfoot ancestry, played four seasons of NCAA field lacrosse with Philadelphia’s La Salle University.

Smith has been coaching both box and field lacrosse teams for the past 10 years.

Both of the B.C. male lacrosse squads also have head coaches with impressive credentials.

The under-16 club will be guided by Chris McElroy, a former pro who played a total of 101 games in the National Lacrosse League (NLL). He suited up for NLL clubs that were based in Anaheim, Edmonton and the state of Washington.

McElroy’s career highlights also include winning a Mann Cup, a Canadian senior men’s box lacrosse title, with the Western Lacrosse Association’s Victoria Shamrocks in 2005.

Though he is not Indigenous himself, McElroy is currently working as the recreation co-ordinator with the Songhees First Nation in Victoria.

Meanwhile, the under-19 entry will be led by Sam Seward, who is from the Squamish Nation. Seward was a member of the Native entry which competed at the inaugural world box lacrosse tournament held in various arenas throughout B.C. in 1980.

Seward and his teammates were defeated by a Canada West entry in the championship final of that historic tourney.