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'It’s like a mini-Olympics': Team Sask headed to North American Indigenous Games

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More than 500 athletes, coaches and staff have arrived in Saskatoon in preparation for their trip out east.

They’re bound for the tenth edition of the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in Halifax.

"I’m really excited,” said Mikeal Bird, a track athlete headed to his first games. “I heard it’s like a mini-Olympics and I’m just trying to soak it all in and have fun competing.”

Elders, community leaders, family members and supporters gathered at Dakota Dunes to send off the athletes with some cheers and words of encouragement.

With athletes coming from all corners of the province, teams have been relying on at-home programs for players to get ready for the short training time as a group.

“We trained for three days over a weekend and we set a challenge as a team,” said Memphis Kahpeaysewat, a member of the boys’ soccer team. “12-minute runs every day. So that’s what we did.”

While it’s the biggest stage for nearly every competitor in the games, athletes say they’re not feeling any pressure.

“I think of the competition as just a normal day shooting at my house or at the range,” said Lyrik Albert, competing in archery. “It’s just keeping that mindfulness of other people and how maybe they’re frightened of the competition. And I want to set a good example for my opponents and my teammates.”

Since the 2020 games were cancelled, it’s everyone’s first trip to the NAIG.

But with plenty of family members who competed in previous years, it helps to have a little guidance.

“My dad was an athlete,” said Melissa Kahpeaysewat, a former competitor in 1995, proud parent and aunt of current competitors.

“He died 41 years ago, so for my kids to be taking part, I’m really happy. They have his athletic abilities, so he’s smiling down on them, and I know he’s proud of them.”

Kahpeaysewat says the opportunity to experience the gathering of athletes from across the continent is a goal for her remaining children.

“I still have two more to go, my goal is to get them going,” she said. “And they all play soccer too, so I’m very proud.”

And while Team Saskatchewan has high expectations for performance, winning six overall team titles since the games began, athletes are looking forward to making new friends too.

“I think it’s both, honestly,” said Mikal Bird, a member of the basketball team. “It’s the experience, meeting new people, and making new friends all across North America, the States, all the provinces.”

Team Saskatchewan will fly to Halifax over the weekend, with competition beginning Monday at venues around Nova Scotia.

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