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Language and Culture (13-17)

Indigenous culture in the spotlight at North American Indigenous Games in Halifax

July 15, 2023

President of NAIG says culture and sport will play equal roles

A fire keeper performs a smudging for a mother and her child.
Clifford Copage, right, a Fire Keeper from We’koqma’q First Nation, performs a smudging for Blanche Israel, left, and her daughter Sultana, 14-months, at the opening of the Cultural Village during the North American Indigenous Games 2023 in Halifax on Saturday, July 15, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

CBC News: As thousands of people from across the continent arrive in Nova Scotia for the North American Indigenous Games, the spotlight won’t only be on athletic competition but also Indigenous culture.

NAIG 2023 president George (Tex) Marshall of Eskasoni said the chance for the Mi’kmaq to share their language, ceremony, traditions and culture with the world is as important as the competitions. “We’ve basically set the standard that our goal is 50 per cent culture, 50 per cent Games and we stay true to that,” said Marshall, who’s been dreaming of hosting the games in Halifax for over two decades.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for culture shared throughout the tribes of North America.”

A man with a NAIG 2023 cap is seen speaking into a microphone.
George (Tex) Marshall is the president of NAIG 2023. (Paul Pourier/CBC)

This will be the first time the Games have been held in Atlantic Canada. Marshall said it’s a chance for the Mi’kmaq to share their story with other Indigenous groups.

Language will also be a key part of the cultural exchange, Marshall said. There are more than 460 signs set up in three languages: English, French and Mi’kmaw.

Many nations will be coming with their own language, he said. Others have lost their language and NAIG could be a “reawakening” for them. “It might be the catalyst for change,” Marshall said.

The NAIG cultural village in the Halifax Common will have cultural demonstrations, a marketplace and performances from Saturday until July 22. 

Events being held there include demonstrations of traditional cooking from chef Ray Bear and traditional medicine from Tuma Young, a lawyer, ethnobotanist and professor of Mi’kmaw studies at Cape Breton University.

The village will also feature the game of Waltes, beadwork, quillwork, drum making, basket weaving, storytelling and hide tanning.

The marketplace at the Halifax Common will have vendors from across the continent, about half of them from the region.

A board showing events at the NAIG 2023 cultural village
A sign at the Halifax Common goes up ahead of the event. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

Angie Gillis, executive director at the Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq, said she’s looking forward to watching how the games are hosted, seeing everyone come together and the impact of the cultural village. “They’re going to see a part of who we are as Mi’kmaq,” Gillis said. “I’ve been part of the ones that were in Winnipeg and Toronto, so getting to see how we host that is going to be fun.”

A woman in a purple jacket speaks to the camera.
Angie Gillis, from Eskasoni First Nation, is the executive director at the Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq.(Dan Jardine/CBC)

NAIG chair Fiona Kirkpatrick-Parsons said the games are going to be about bringing cultures together. “It’s an opportunity for everyone to come together and learn about each other’s cultures,” she said.

“Mi’kmaw culture will be … the predominant host culture, but there will be other cultures represented. And we want everyone to feel welcome to come and learn and participate.”

A woman in a denim jacket with floral embroidery speaks to the camera.
Fiona Kirkpatrick-Parsons is chair of the North American Indigenous Games. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

Chief Bob Gloade of Millbrook First Nation, which will host the 3D archery competition, agrees on the importance of culture at the event.

He said the Games will be a showcase for Indigenous drummers, dancers and performers from the region. He said it will be moving for him to welcome athletes and delegates from across the continent.