Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 88: Sports and Reconciliation (87-91)

Indigenous athletes get ready to compete in 2024 Arctic Winter Games

March 6, 2024

The 2024 Arctic Winter Games will take place in Mat-Su, Alaska, from March 10 to 16.

APTN News: The 2024 Arctic Winter Games is just days away, and that means young Indigenous athletes are getting their final practises in before heading to the North’s most prestigious sporting event.

On March 9, Team Yukon will head to Matanuska-Susitna Valley just north of Anchorage, Alaska to compete in the biennial sporting competition.

The biennial event attracts young athletes from across the circumpolar north from places like Greenland, Norway and Nunavut.

While it’s not the first games for Kiawna Leas, 18, that doesn’t make it less nerve-wracking.

“(The games) can bring you out of your comfort zone for sure,” she said. “But in my experience overall, I’ve loved it. It’s been a really good experience for me.”

Leas, who is a citizen of the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council, will compete in the Dene Games. The Dene Games have cultural ties to the land or survival. The games consist of five events: finger pull, snowsnake, stick pull, hand games and pole push.

Ta’an Kwäch’än Council citizen Kiawna Leas practising the snowsnake. The event is part of Dene Games. Photo: Sara Connors/APTN

Leas said the snowsnake, for example, which involves athletes throwing a stick along the ground as far as they can, is rooted in traditional winter hunting practises where spears were hurled over the ice to strike resting game animals. Leas has been involved with the sport since first trying out in 2018.

“I really enjoyed it. I’ve been doing it ever since,” she said.

Leas said she’s excited to compete against athletes from across northern Canada and the world, though she’s mostly looking forward for the overall Arctic Winter Games experience.

“It’s not really about the competition,” Leas said. “It’s a bonus if you get a medal, but it’s not what it’s all about. It’s about all the memories that you make.”

Lots of jumping

It’s much the same for Arctic Sports athlete Carson Nelson, 16. Nelson, who is a member of the Bonaparte First Nation, is recovering from an injury. However, he’ll be ready to play just before the games begin.

“I’m really excited and it is really close. I’m really excited to go with my team,” he said.

When it comes to Arctic Sports, Nelson said  strength is important. Many of the 11 events that makeup Arctic Sports, such as the one-foot high kick and two-foot high kick, require explosive force and body coordination.

The events require athletes to use either one or both legs to kick a ball made of seal fur without losing their balance.

“Arctic Sports is a lot more jumping than any other sports,” Nelson said. “Almost every specific event in Arctic sports is jumping, which is very different from all the other sports I do.”

The 2024 Arctic Winter Games take place March 10 to 16 on the ancestral land of the Dena’ina’ and Ahtna Dene.

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Sara Connors,