Team Saskatchewan leads medal count at 2023 North American Indigenous Games | CBC News

With the 2023 North American Indigenous Games in Nova Scotia drawing to a close, Team Saskatchewan has won more medals than any other delegation.

The 2023 games — which mix Indigenous culture with sporting events and brought together about 5,000 athletes, coaches and mission staff from 750 Indigenous nations across the continent — officially end on Sunday.

As of Saturday at  3 p.m CST, heading into the final hours of competition, Team Saskatchewan had a total of 159 medals — 47 gold, 60 silver and 52 bronze.

“There have been 10 North American Indigenous Games — we’ve won the overall championship seven of those times,” said Mike Tanton, Team Saskatchewan’s chef de mission.

“We’re not slowing down and we’re back on top, and that’s something our entire province can be proud of, because they’ve all contributed to making that happen. “

Team Saskatchewan was followed in medal standings by Team British Columbia, with 138, and Team Ontario, with 118, as of Saturday afternoon.

The Saskatchewan delegation had about 430 Indigenous athletes competing in a variety of sports, including the traditional Indigenous sports of canoe/kayak, archery and box lacrosse, plus soccer, softball, swimming, volleyball, wrestling, beach volleyball, rifle shooting, badminton, baseball and basketball.

Man celebrates with athletes at a volleyball court in Saskatchewan
Team Saskatchewan’s chief de mission Mike Tanton says he’s so proud of all the athletes for the way they represented their home communities and Saskatchewan. (Owen Woytowich)

Tanton says First Nation communities from all corners of Saskatchewan were represented at the 2023 North American Indigenous Games.

In addition to representing Saskatchewan, “they’re representing their home communities, they’re representing their families, and that’s something a lot of these young athletes carry on their shoulders,” he said. 

“Seeing the amount of time, energy that our athletes have put in, and seeing them be so successful, that’s been the ultimate highlight.” 

Tanton added the sportsmanship the Saskatchewan athletes showed throughout the 2023 games was commendable. 

Big, welcoming community: kayaker

Julianna Reimer-Marion, a 15-year-old kayaker from Regina who competed at the games, didn’t know she had Métis heritage until about a year and a half ago.

Attending the games allowed her to learn more about Indigenous culture, she said.

“The community was so big and welcoming,” Reimer-Marion said.

“It was very nice being around [the cultural village in Halifax] and seeing all the artwork of all the Indigenous people, and seeing all the clothing and how they celebrate.”

15 year old girl kayaking
Julianna Reimer-Marion kayaking at the 2023 North American Indigenous Games in Nova Scotia. (Submitted by Rossel Marion)

Reimer-Marion, who won one gold and two bronze medals in kayaking competitions, says she felt honoured to contribute to Team Saskatchewan’s medal count.

“The night before we flew out I was so nervous, I almost felt sick to my stomach … so honestly, I was so surprised when I got medals,” she said. 

“My whole team was cheering me on during my races. I felt very loved by everyone.”

Attending the July 16 opening ceremonies was a highlight of her experience, Reimer-Marion said.

“I felt like this celebrity, because we [Team Saskatchewan] did like a giant parade, and then we walked into the stadium and everyone was cheering for us and we were on TV,” she said.

“We had a bunch of concerts and [Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau came, and I got a photo with him when he came to the races on Monday.”

Girl celebrating with her dad after a race at the north american indigenous games
Julianna Reimer-Marion with her dad after one of her kayaking races at the 2023 North American Indigenous Games in Nova Scotia. (Submitted by Rossel Marion)

The closing ceremony and a concert planned for Friday evening were cancelled due to a severe thunderstorm. Much of central Nova Scotia, including areas of the Halifax Regional Municipality, dealt with severe flooding and impassable roads Saturday after torrential downpours swamped much of the province overnight Friday.

Nevertheless, Tanton says participating in the 2023 games was a special experience for Team Saskatchewan’s athletes.

“I don’t think many of them realized how many kids are out there participating in such high level sports and representing each of those communities,” Tanton said. 

“For a lot of these young people, the experience that they got and the friendships that they’ve built across Turtle Island are things they are going to remember for a lifetime.”

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