Young First Nations athletes from across Saskatchewan will be on hand Monday night for the opening ceremony of the Tony Cote First Nations Summer Games.
It is the first time since 2019 that Indigenous youth in Saskatchewan will get the chance to compete at the Games, which were put on hold due to COVID-19. The events will be held in Saskatoon and Whitecap Dakota First Nation.
That was also the last time the father of the Games, Tony Cote, attended the event in person. The veteran and former chief of Cote First Nation passed away shortly afterwards.
Runners from Flying Dust Cree Nation — the host of the last Summer Games — started their journey on Thursday, carrying the Games' feathered lance on foot, relay-style, toward Saskatoon. They arrived on Sunday.
They will pass the lance to the new host of the Games, James Smith Cree Nation, during the opening ceremony Monday night at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.
"We are ready for the Games," said Wally Burns, chief of James Smith Cree Nation.
"It was just a matter of being patient, and I guess being patient really pays off," he said, adding "I think this year is going to be a very excellent year for our 74 First Nations and also the people that are going to come and watch."
Cote saw the 'right path'
Cote "definitely saw the … right path that we needed to, you know, create our own event and have our athletes together over a week-long period," said Games manager Korey Diehl.
"I think that's what these Games are for, you know, to create opportunities that maybe some of our athletes don't have."
Cote and the council of the Cote First Nation initiated the Saskatchewan First Nation Winter and Summer Games in 1974, agreeing that the majority of First Nations youth in the province were being excluded by mainstream sports systems, according to the Games website.
This year, athletes representing 14 teams can compete in three different age groups — U13, U15 and U17.
While athletics, softball and golf events are scheduled for the first half of the week, fans can watch archery, beach volleyball, soccer, canoe and kayak during the second half of the games.
"It feels great [to have the Games back]," said Joshua Daniels, 16, from Sturgeon Lake First Nation. "I'm not sure how I'll do, but I'm excited for it."
Besides playing soccer, Daniels says he is also looking forward to learning new things and making new friends.
His mother, Tanya Daniels, understands her son's sense of anticipation and excitement.
As the co-ordinator for Team Prince Albert Grand Council she is directly involved in this year's Games, but Daniels also has fond memories of her own time as an athlete competing in them.
"I was deprived of sports when I was my young age," she said. "Once I heard Summer Games, I'm like, 'Oh, I want to play. I want to try these.'"
However, unlike her brothers, females weren't allowed to play sports in her home growing up, she recalled.
But when her parents saw how eager she was to join, they started supporting her.
Her father watched Daniels score her first goal at the age of 12, and she remembers it as one of the best moments of her young life — knowing that she had made her father proud and starting to feel his support for her joy of soccer.
While Daniels continues playing soccer as an adult, it's now the turn of the next generation of young female First Nations soccer players to take the stage at the Games
"I am excited," said soccer player Sharon Head from James Smith Cree Nation. "The sport is fun. We all try to win, but sometimes it's just, like, about having fun."