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The Games were held this year from August 3 to 10 in Victoria, British Columbia. Twenty-six teams from across North America travelled to compete in the eight-day event. Hailed as this year's largest gathering of Aboriginal youth in North America, the Games attracted nearly 5,000 athletes between the ages of 12 and 21. Team Saskatchewan contributed a contingent of over 800 athletes.
A total of 16 different sporting events were held over the week of competition; archery, athletics (track and field), badminton, baseball, basketball, boxing, canoeing, golf, lacrosse, rifle shooting, soccer, softball, swimming, tae kwon do, volleyball and wrestling were featured with free admission to spectators and enthusiasts.
Venues were located around the greater Victoria region. An efficient bus transportation system was used to link the sporting venues with accommodation sites and meal centres. Lorna Arcand, chef de mission for Team Saskatchewan, praised organizers, saying that the event was well-organized.
Over 2,000 volunteers worked to make sure that things were kept moving smoothly. Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal volunteers worked as medical and security personnel, cultural village and ceremonies staff and general support staff. Coordinators and technical officials also volunteered their services. These volunteers were honoured for their contribution during the closing ceremonies of the Games.
Volunteers earned this honour, each day handling thousands of spectators. Arcand estimates that between 3,000 and 5,000 people travelled from Saskatchewan alone to cheer on the athletes. In addition to parents and family, she says, "It was really nice to see some of the communities take younger children to see what the Games are about." Once these young spectators reach 12 years of age, they will be able to compete themselves.
Arcand stresses the appreciation that she and her mission staff have for the support they received from Saskatchewan First Nations, Tribal Councils, Friendship Centres and parents. She realizes that the Games create a financial burden for some families and communities but says, "The long-range benefits of providing positive alternative activities for youth" go a long way in combatting negative lifestyles.
Creating healthy alternative activities for youth is one of the main focuses of the Saskatchewan Indian Sport, Culture and Recreation Commission. Arcand believes that the strong sports program, including the annual Saskatchewan Indian Summer and Winter Games, is part of the reason why Saskatchewan has won every Overall Championship at NAIG since its inception in 1990.
Another large part of Saskatchewan's success, says Arcand, is that they continue to raise the standards for the athletes. And, because coaching and mission staff are "all part of the same team", the standards for coaches are being raised as well. For the next Games, coaches will be required to have Level 11 certification. And, while these Games are two years away, planning is already under way.
Athletes will have a long journey to the 1999 Games in Fargo, North Dakota. Try-outs for the Games will be held on a regional basis. The top athletes at these first try-outs will move on to provincial finals. After the selection of Team Saskatchewan, training camps will be held on a regular basis until the Games arrive.
Try-outs ensure that Team Saskatchewan represents the elite of Sask-
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Jesse Laframboise of Regina won a gold medal in the Inter mediate Open Boxing competition. Laframboise has competed in and won mainstream boxing competitions around the world.
Janna Pratt of Gordon's First Nation won a gold medal in Juvenile Female Wrestling. This high-calibre athlete recently won the Canadian Women's title. Arcand says that Pratt's longest match at the Games lasted 24 seconds.
Robert Laroque of Saskatoon took home four gold medals in the bantam division of athletics competition. Laroque has competed previously, but his dedication and focus clearly showed this year.
Tom Charles was another impressive gold medallist. He won six canoeing competitions at the Junior level, mostly on an individual basis.
While these four are shining examples of Aboriginal athletes, Arcand stresses that all of the athletes deserve recognition for their hard work and commitment. "They were all great," she says. "They made me proud."
The athletes' dedication was rewarded with the presentation of the top prize, the Ceremonial Paddle, at the Closing Ceremonies. Arcand says that she regretted that many of Saskatchewan's athletes had already left Victoria to return home and did not get to share in that crowning moment. She was reassured, however, when she overheard a young Saskatchewan athlete say that it did not matter that many of the athletes had gone early, "What matters," he said, "is that we did what we came here to do."