by Stephanie Francis - First Nations Health Liaison, Department of Health, NB

Good Morning! I just wanted to inform you that the “NB Indian Summer Games” are happening right now at St. Mary’s First Nation in Fredericton- Northside. Some people may recall that the Ombudsmen’s report, “Hand in Hand” (2010), made the recommendation for the Indian Summer Games to be revived. This is its second year now.

This is the first time SMFN has hosted the games in 25 years! I attended/volunteered yesterday, and it was amazing to see youth ages 5-18 participating in many track & field events. The teams were all dressed in matching T’s. There were waves of t-shirts in blue, orange, beige, red, black green and yellow, as parents and fans cheered all kids from every reserve. Everybody cheered the one who placed first, and even cheered for the ones who lagged behind in encouragement to finish across the line. So many shook hands with the top three of each event, as well as with those who just barely crossed the line… and it was particularly heartwarming to hear Maliseet or Mikmaq adults having talks of praise and acknowledgement with Mikmaq or Maliseet youth and telling them things like “You did great to finish that race!”

The opening ceremony were beautiful! There was a remarkable entrance from the Chief Harold Sappier memorial Elementary School, down Highland Ave into the ball field. First Nations RCMP’s, dressed in their red serge, escorting each First Nation community with banner in hand. On the pitcher’s mound were the Muskrat Singers, SMFN’s very own drum group, and four young ladies dressed in their elaborately designed regalia’s- jingle dresses and fancy shawls.

Along the home plate-1st base line and 3rd base-home plate line, were honourable guests, Chiefs, Maliseet Traditional Chief Harry Laporte (who began by blessing the area and the athletes with a sacred smudge), NB Regional Chief Roger Augustine, National Aboriginal People’s Congress Chief Betty Ann Lavallee, NBAPC Chief Kim McKinley, MLA’s, City Council reps, representatives from the Honourable Premier Dave Alward’s office and the Aboriginal Affairs Secretariat, along with respected Elders sat side by side.

There were Mikmaq and Wolostoquik (Maliseet), young and old, cheering each First Nation delegation as they entered that ball field. Elder, Maggie Paul started with a prayer and a song, followed by a young lady, Jenny Paul, who sang the national anthem in Maliseet, English and French. The fact that she sang this song in her native tongue made each and every standing person so proud.

Not having participated in its first year back (Elsipogtog-2010), I am so amazed at the powerful spirit that was felt by all in attendance. The only thing I can personally compare this to is the feeling of community that was always present during the days of migrant working in the blueberry fields and knowing that every person was there with a wish for something a little better for their children.

Although only eight of the 15 First Nations communities were represented at the opening, additional teams entered in following events, such as softball. Judging from the attendance though, one of the organizers noted that there was probably a 20% increase in track & field participants compared to last year. What is even more exciting is hearing the fans and parents reminisce of summer games 25 to 30 years ago, and then make comments about how great this event was, and that they will want to help their youth be more prepared for next year!

It is almost difficult to try to put the feeling down on paper. Its like 500 years of oppression was washed away for a day. It was like colonization had never occurred. It was like we had no worries in the world except to ensure that we had lots of water and that our children were at the appropriate event on the start line. This is truly mental fitness and resiliency at its best!

Tags: , ,