By Sam Laskaris
Though they still have some awareness issues to overcome, organizers of this year’s Alberta Indigenous Games (AIG) are confident they will stage a successful event.
The fourth running of the multi-sport Games will be held Aug. 13 to Aug. 17 in Edmonton. The inaugural AIG were held in 2012. The Games also took place in 2013 and 2015.
Martha Campiou, who is the AIG president, said officials are finding that they still need to educate the public about exactly what their event is.
“We’re still working on it,” she said. “There’s a lot to be done. People are a bit confused about it.” Some people are confusing the AIG with the North American Indigenous Games. Several hundred Alberta athletes will participate in those Games, which are scheduled for July 16 to July 23 in Toronto.
And others are getting the AIG mixed up with the World Indigenous Games, an adults only (20 and over) multi-sport competition that will also be held in Edmonton this July.
The 2015 AIG attracted about 500 competitors. Jacob Hendy, the CEO of this year’s Games, is confident participation numbers will increase this year.
“We’re expecting around 700,” he said. “We’re just conservatively saying that.”
In reality, organizers are hoping they get a considerably larger amount of participants.
One of the reasons they believe they’ll have more athletes taking part is because more sports have been added to the Games.
The AIG will now include beach volleyball, soccer, fastball and lacrosse competitions.
“We’ve been on a big initiative to get lacrosse into the Games because it is an Indigenous sport,” Hendy said.
And in an effort to encourage lacrosse participation in the AIG, officials have staged a number of clinics in the sport throughout the province.
Clinics have been staged at the Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation, Driftpile First Nation and the Whitefish Lake First Nation. Clinics were also run at a pair of Edmonton-area schools.
And in a further push to get as many as lacrosse players as possible into the Games, organizers have lowered the age limit to 10 for those interested in taking part.
The other sports in the AIG will feature athletes ranging in age from 12 to 20. They'll be divided into Junior, Intermediate and Senior age groupings. These divisions are not the same for all sports as they vary for some activities.
Other sports being offered this year are archery, athletics (track and field), ball hockey, basketball, canoeing, golf and volleyball.
Though various track and field events have been run at previous Games, cross-country running races are being included under the athletics category for the first time.
Provided there are no scheduling conflicts, athletes can sign up to take part in more than one sport.
Organizers believe lowering their registration fees for competitors will also boost participation numbers.
At the 2015 AIG, it cost $100 per athlete to take part. Even those that were members of a team were forced to pay $100 each.
The entry fee has been lowered to $80 for individuals this year. And for the first time, a team entry fee option of $400 has been introduced.
“It was always affordable,” said Campiou, who has been the Games’ president since their inception. “But because of the economy in Alberta in the last little while, we decided to make it more affordable for communities in Alberta.”
The AIG entry fee is considerably lower than the estimated $1,500 per person it will cost for Alberta athletes that will participate at NAIG in Toronto.
And unlike the NAIG, Hendy said the AIG is open to all those who wish to take part.
“There are no tryouts,” he said. “Anybody can come out and compete.”
Hendy also said signing up for the AIG will also be significantly easier this year. Instead of mailing in forms and payment as was the case in previous years, entrants can now register and pay online within minutes.
The registration deadline is July 15. Registration information is available on the Games’ website at http://www.albertaindigenousgames.ca
“We’re getting a lot more volunteers than in the past, too,” Hendy said. “I think that’s because of the online presence as well.”
This year’s Games will be dedicated to Allan Ross, the AIG founder who died in the fall of 2015.
Organizers are planning some type of memorial for Ross, which will take place during the Games’ opening ceremonies.
“We’re still working on it,” Hendy said. “We don’t have the exact details of it.”
Opening ceremonies will be preceded by an Eagle Staff Run, an event covering about eight kilometres and featuring 20-30 athletes and AIG organizers.