When the New Brunswick Indian Summer Games started in 1977, they were a more exclusive gathering, geared to adults with status under federal law and excluding everyone else.
All that’s changed, said Jason Peters, CEO of Aboriginal Sport and Recreation New Brunswick.
Financial problems in the late 1980s shelved the games for about 20 years, but the Indian Summer Games made a comeback in 2010 and have grown since then.
Today, the games, which ended Friday after a week of events at Kingsclear First Nation and nearby Fredericton, are open to status and non-status community members, to First Nations across the province and to Listuguj First Nation in Quebec, Peters said.
And the focus has shifted entirely to young people, or anyone from five to 19 years old.
“Anybody living in the community as a youth, so they may not even be status or non-status, we let them participate in our games because it is a community-based games,” he said. Listuguj is included because members are born and go to school in this province.
“We see them as partners.”
Focus on youth
Since the games became centred on young people, participation has grown significantly, Peters said.
That wasn’t expected.
When the games started up again, hosted by Elsipogtog First Nation, the organizers weren’t sure how many young people might participate.
They ended up with 900. This year, 1,200 participated.
Peters said the draw is the variety of sports young people can engage in.
‘It’s sort of a Christmas when it comes to sport for them.’– Jason Peters, Aboriginal Sport and Recreation New Brunswick
“We are trying to focus on multi-sport athletes,” he said. “We don’t want our athletes to just be hockey players or baseball players. We want them to experience all sports.
“So in our games, our youth are able to participate in each and every sport. Which is really fun for them because it’s sort of a Christmas when it comes to sport for them.”
Source of pride
Since the rebirth of the games, Peters has noted a new source of pride in Indigenous communities.
Participants play against family members and friends in other communities and take home bragging rights if they win.
While staging the events is hard work for the many volunteers, older participants have been returning to the games as coaches, Peters said.
“I see sport as the vehicle to a better world, a better life,” he said.
Having such an outlet helps many Indigenous young people get away from negative influences in their lives.
‘I see sport as the vehicle to a better world, a better life.’– Jason Peters, Aboriginal Sport and Recreation New Brunswick
“Many of our youth are going on to universities to compete or at least they’re being offered scholarships. It just opens up a wide variety of opportunities.
“Many are now chiefs or in band council and in leadership positions, and sport and recreation is a vehicle to better things and to free one’s mind.”
What’s in a name?
While the Indian Summer Games have changed a lot since their inception, one thing remains the same — the word Indian in the name.
Peters said organizers still debate the name, but it’s stayed the same to honour the tradition of the former games.
“It’s just a connection to the past that we do want to keep,” he said. “But there are rumours of possibly changing it to the New Brunswick Indigenous Summer Games.”
Cathy Ward, a volleyball coach with Metepenagiag First Nation, said it’s a controversial subject.
“I always use the word Indigenous,” she said.
Athlete Lana Larry Dedam of Esgenoopetitj First Nation just shrugged when asked about the name.
“Some people get offended by being called Indians,” she said.