By Sam Laskaris
A bit of history will be made next month as the inaugural Ontario Aboriginal Summer Games will be staged. But more than just provincial bragging rights will be on the line at the multi-sport competition, which is scheduled for July 19 to July 21.
That’s because the Games, which will be held in the Six Nations community of Oshweken and in nearby venues, will help identify some of the Ontario athletes that will go on to compete at the 2017 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG).
The Ontario Games, open to those ages 13 to 18, will feature seven sports. They are archery, athletics (track and field), canoeing/kayaking, golf, lacrosse, rifle shooting and swimming.
The Aboriginal Sport and Wellness Council of Ontario (ASWCO), which was incorporated in 2011, is hosting the Games.
A previous organization which governed Aboriginal sports in the province and nationally, the Aboriginal Sports Circle, had staged summer games more than a decade ago. But those games did not continue on.
Vanessa Lodge, ASWCO’s manager of engagement and development, said this year’s Games are unique.
That’s because the three-day event will actually feature just one day of competition.
The first two days will allow athletes to try as many as three different sports.
“With each sport we will have dedicated coaches and volunteers to help out,” she said.
Several other Aboriginal organizations in Canada also stage their own provincial or territorial youth summer games.
“We’re very unique with the approach we’re taking with these Games,” Lodge said. “From my understanding, I don’t think there’s any other provincial or territorial association that does what we’ll be doing.”
Day 1 of the Ontario Games is being called Fundamental Movement Skills. All of those athletes who attend the Games will have the opportunity to try three sports of their choosing.
By the next day, athletes will have to narrow down their choices of sports. They will be allowed to train and practice in a maximum of two sports.
And then on the final day of the Games, that’s when competitions will be staged. Athletes will only be allowed to participate in one sport.
Lodge said Games’ organizers are keen on having those who show up try new sports.
“They’re coming from all over the province,” she said. “They might not have access to try different sports in their communities.”
ASWCO is divided into six regions across the province. Each region will be allowed to send a maximum of 35 athletes to the Games, on a first come, first served basis. The Games will feature a maximum of 210 athletes.
Lodge said ASWCO plans to stage the provincial Games every two years.
“The sports may change from year to year,” she said. And so too will the number of competitors. Lodge said organizers purposely capped the number of athletes who will take part this year.
“It’s the first time we’ve done this event,” she said. “We wanted to make sure we can do a good job with smaller numbers before we jump into something big.”
Athletes are required to pay a $90 registration fee to take part.
Those travelling to the Games from northern parts of the province can take advantage of free transportation that will be provided. Buses will pick up participants from Thunder Bay, Timmins, Kenora and Sault Ste. Marie.
Also, accommodations and food will be provided for all of the competitors. These expenses will be covered by ASWCO, which receives funding from the province’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport.
Ohsweken’s Gaylord Powless Arena will play host to a pair of sports, lacrosse and athletics. Both box lacrosse and field lacrosse sessions will be staged, possibly in 3 on 3 or 4 on 4 formats. And the track and field events will be held on the outdoor track adjacent to the arena.
Ohsweken will also host the canoeing/kayaking races. They will take place on the Grand River at Chiefswood Park.
Meanwhile, both the archery and rifle shooting competitions will be held at the Hamilton Angling and Hunting Association, which is actually located in Ancaster.
Also, the MontHill Golf and Country Club, which is in Caledonia, will host the golf events. And Brantford’s Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre will be the site of all the swimming races.
Though ASWCO officials will use the Ontario Games to identify talent for the 2017 NAIG, which will be held in Toronto, athletes unable to take part next month need not fret.
Lodge said various tryout camps for all 14 sports available at the NAIG will also be staged throughout Ontario both this year and next year as well.
A violent murder on Six Nations of the Grand River on Wednesday could have organizers of the upcoming Ontario Aboriginal Summer Games reconsidering their host nation.
“It’s a discussion that still needs to be had,” said Wesley Marsden, with the Aboriginal Sport and Wellness Council.