If this was happening in Toronto, and if the athletes were a bit different, the whole country would be expected to stop in its tracks and take notice.
And, already, that is literally what has happened. This Summer, Toronto’s roads have effectively ground to a halt because of the Pan Am Games. Every major roadway in Canada’s largest city has seemingly been paralyzed by construction-caused gridlock.
Some Pan Am facilities are way behind schedule and way over budget. Meanwhile, Pan Am Games executives are reportedly receiving millions in bonuses – while other high-living execs have been hurriedly replaced amid front-page controversy.
Notwithstanding all of that bona fide scandal, provincial and municipal politicians have fallen all over themselves to trumpet the Pan Am Games. They’ve led rallies, they’ve spent money they do not have, and they’ve generally expected the rest of us to regard the Games – now just under a year away – as important as, say, the Moon landing.
Meanwhile, in Saskatchewan this weekend, another North America-wide athletic competition is taking place. But you’d never know it.
They’re the North American Indigenous Games. NAIG, as it is known, is attracting thousands of athletes from across the continent – from places as far-flung as New York, Florida, Nunavut, and the Yukon. All across Canada and North America, in fact. Just like the Pan Am Games.
NAIG will run from July 20 to 27, in Regina and surrounding locations. There’ll be close to 4,000 athletes in attendance, along with about 1,000 coaches, and thousands of families and friends. Fifteen sports will be represented. Athletes will be representing 21 regions in North America – in all, thirteen from Canada, and eight from the U.S.
Sports being competed include archery, track, baseball, basketball, canoeing, golf, kayaking, lacrosse, rifle shooting, soccer, softball, volleyball and wrestling. (Swimming was facing elimination, because of a shortage of accredited officials, but is now back on.)
The first North American Indigenous Games took place in Edmonton, nearly 25 years ago. They’ve also been held in places like Winnipeg, Victoria, and Denver. The Denver event, in 2006, was managed by individuals who are actually members of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Sounds like a pretty big deal, right? Sounds important, no?
Scanning media headlines, listening to the politicians, you’d never know it. While the proverbial red carpet has been rolled out for the Pan Am Games boondoggle – while politicians have heaped praise on the budget-busting Pan Am Games and everyone associated with them – NAIG gets barely a mention anywhere, anytime, by anyone.
Apart from small-town media, few reporters have bothered to write or broadcast anything about NAIG to date. No politicians seem to have been clamouring to pay tribute to NAIG or its athletes. I’d wager, as a result, that many Canadians don’t even know NAIG is happening.
You can speculate as to the reasons why. And, full disclosure, as the Dad to an aboriginal daughter who is swimming for Team Ontario, I have my own suspicions. But my daughter – a citizen of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation in the Yukon – is thrilled to be leaving today for Regina. She may not have heard a peep – not a word! – from Toronto’s mayor, her local councilor, the provincial Premier or even Ontario’s Minister of Sport, but she couldn’t be more proud to be waving Ontario’s colours in NAIG’s opening ceremonies.
(There is one prominent figure we’ve heard from, however. Laureen Teskey, the Prime Minister’s wife, met my daughter briefly, years ago, and has kept track of her progress through life. She’s a nice lady.)
Anyway – as a Dad, as a taxpayer, as a citizen, I say: to Hell with you, Pan Am Games. I’ll be in Saskatchewan with my partner for the North American Indigenous Games this week, to loudly cheer on the athletes there.
And I’ll bet we won’t encounter a single traffic jam, budget overrun or scandal along the way.