Arctic Winter Games a family affair for siblings Brooklyn and Jordan Wills

The Arctic Winter Games are a family affair for siblings Brooklyn and Jordan Wills of Team Alberta North.

Mother Ashleigh is a mission staff member for the team and father Cory previously competed and coached at the Games. Two of the teens' aunts were also competitors and their grandmother is a mission staff member who has coached and served as a judge.

So there will be no shortage of advice opportunities for Brooklyn, 13, and her 15-year-old brother Jordan ahead of their Arctic sports competition. The weeklong Games begin Sunday in Wood Buffalo, Alta.

"The goal for them is to go in and have the experience, try their best and really take in what the Games are about," Ashleigh said.

The Games are a premier circumpolar sport and cultural event for youth. They were first held in Yellowknife in 1970.

Usually held every two years, the 2020 Games were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A planned return in 2022 was postponed to this year.

Arctic Winter Games International Committee president John Rodda said he's thrilled to have the event back on the calendar for the first time since 2018.

"It creates awareness of the world outside of these small communities," he said from Wood Buffalo. "It helps to develop northern cultures. They take back a sense of pride that goes back to the community."

The 2020 event was scrubbed just a few days before it was scheduled to begin in Whitehorse.

"I know it was devastating for Jordan because he had made the (team)," Ashleigh said in a recent interview from Grande Prairie, Alta. "Being 13 and not knowing quite what you're getting into - the excitement was there. So that was hard to explain.

"But he came back with a vengeance for this year's event and was very successful."

Jordan's specialty is the one-foot high kick, which requires athletes to jump off the ground and kick a hanging target with one foot before landing on that same leg.

Brooklyn's favourite, meanwhile, is the Alaskan high kick, which involves a similar upkick to a hanging target.

Athletes must hold one foot with one hand, balance with the other hand and extend the kicking foot upward before using it to land.

Other competitions within the discipline are the two-foot high kick, kneel jump, sledge jump, triple jump, arm pull, airplane carry, one hand reach, head pull and knuckle hop. Some events are not included at the junior level.

"I've talked with my dad and my grandma about it and it seems like it's going to be a really fun time," Brooklyn said.

In all, there are 20 sports categories on the program. Indoor summer sports like badminton, basketball and gymnastics are included along with traditional winter events like curling, hockey, skiing and figure skating.

Another unique category is Dene games, which includes events rooted in traditional and cultural values. The finger pull, snowsnake, stick pull and team competitions like hand games and the pole push are included.

In addition to Alberta North, teams from the Northwest Territories, Yukon, Nunavut, Alaska, Greenland, Nunavik in northern Quebec, as well as Indigenous Sami people of Norway, Sweden and Finland are set to compete.

About 2,100 competitors, coaches, mission staff and officials will be on hand.

Athletes are primarily between 10 and 19 years old depending on the category and sport. Young adults also compete in the Arctic sports and Dene games competitions.

The Halluci Nation will headline the opening ceremony at MacDonald Island Park. The Canadian electronic music group was previously known as a A Tribe Called Red.

Mat-Su Valley, Alaska, is scheduled to host the next Arctic Winter Games in March 2024.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.

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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press