Canada's Sports Hall of Fame Canadian History and Society: Through the Lens of Sport Virtual Museum of Canada


Video Transcript

[Narrator - Sharon Firth with footage of northern landscape behind her, footage of sign saying First Arctic Winter Games, Pierre Trudeau at opening of first Arctic Winter Games in Yellowknife, athletes competing in Arctic Sports and Dene Games.]

The Arctic Winter Games was established in 1970 as a typical sports event for people in the Circumpolar North. Overtime, the Games have been reshaped to become a cultural event that expresses its own unique character. Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau had the honour of opening the first Games, which were held in the city of Yellowknife. The motivation to establish the Games was to provide competitive sport for people living in the Arctic Circle. The Games are an international event which originally included participants from Alaska, as well as athletes from the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, which included the territory now known as Nunavut.

[Footage of cultural dancing, athletes doing head pull, Sharon Firth with Arctic Winter Games flag beside her, footage of hand games, poll push, airplane, head pull, and arm pull.]

With the successful start of roughly 500 participants in 1970, the Arctic Winter Games has grown and now boasts 2,000 athletes along with thousands more volunteers, coaches, friends, and family. The Games have now drawn in many other circumpolar peoples that helped form its vibrant atmosphere including athletes from Russia, Scandinavia, Greenland, Northern Quebec, and Labrador.

The many participants at the Games include various indigenous groups from the circumpolar regions. In Canada, we have two main indigenous groups that compete at the Games, the Inuit and the Dene Nation, which is the First Nations community that spans into Arctic Canada. Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of the Arctic compete side by side in friendly competition. To ensure that the benefits of the Games are spread through the Arctic, athletes are selected across the many communities that span the Arctic Circle. It is more important that the diversity of the circumpolar peoples come together for the festival than simply selecting the best athletes in a sport.

[Action images of athletes snowshoeing, on podium with ulu medals, action footage of athletes at cultural events, parade of athletes and mascots.]

A schedule of events is created at the Games. Sometimes a schedule is flexible, accommodating the needs of athletes and communities. This is not typical of most sporting events. Many athletes spend their nights participating in the multicultural music, arts, dancing and social activities. These cultural events are a central feature at the Games. They promote key values, such as pride in community and learning about their cultures.

[Sharon Firth with Arctic Winter Games logo beside her, images of athletes skiing, snowshoeing, athletes on podium with ulu medals, biathlon skiing, snowshoe racing, artists colour drawings of hand games, blanket toss, moose skin ball, head pull, one-foot high kick and airplane. Drawings courtesy of Silvia Pecota.]

More than simply a competition, the Arctic Winter Games is a sport and cultural festival. There are many types of events at the Games, including many popular sports like badminton, basketball, figure skating, cross-country skiing, biathlon, hockey and indoor soccer. There are many unique events at these Games, such as snow shoe racing. There are also Arctic sports, a series of traditional games of the Inuit which became an official event in 1974. There are also traditional physical activities of the Inuit people; eleven of them are included at the Games.

[Footage of Meika McDonald describing three kicking events and of Meika doing the Alaskan high-kick in competition.]

Former arctic athlete Meika McDonald describes three different kicking events:
"So there's three kicking events; one is called the one-foot high kick, the two-foot high kick, and the Alaskan High Kick. The One-foot High Kick is a two-foot take off, you kick the target and you land on the foot that you kicked with, maintaining balance. The Two-foot High Kick is a two-foot take off as well. You kick the target with both feet and you have about a one inch allowance on that and then you land on both feet and maintain balance. The Alaskan High Kick you're seated on the floor and you're holding, one hand is holding the opposite foot and then you lift your body up onto just your arm and you kick the target, and then when you land you have only your kicking leg and the hand that is supporting you, you must show balance and then you're attempt it complete."

[Footage of Meika McDonald doing Alaskan high kick and celebrating her success after competing. Meika McDonald speaking with image of her with her three children, images of 2002 Arctic Winter Games participants, Patti-Kay Hamilton and Don True (ski biathlon coaches with Liz Wright (snowshoe coach) at 2016 Arctic Winter Games Territorial Trials, members of Hay River ski club and dog mushing]

Like any other sporting event, Inuit sports are fun, rewarding, and challenging for all the athletes. There is also a kinship value system; it underlies participation in Inuit sports, passing down traditional knowledge.
"The thing about traditional Inuit games is that you really sort of embrace the family concept, like all of us competed, coached, officiate, like there's just this huge passing of knowledge, and I think it should be an expectation than it is that as an athlete and given the opportunity to learn that sport, to that you pass that on and that's traditionally correct."

[Images of hand games, finger pull, poll push, stick pull and numerous images of the snow snake. Peter Daniels speaking about the snow snake, footage of athletes throwing the snow snake in competition.]

More than just a sport, traditional games are important part of Indigenous culture. There are also many traditional physical activities of the Dene peoples. These events became official sports in 1990, alongside the Inuit and mainstream sporting events. One of the Dene Games is called the Snow Snake, which requires the athlete to throw a spear along a track of ice as far as you can. Dene Games coach, Peter Daniels, tells a story of the Snow Snake:
"...Caribou, I guess were a little hard to sneak up on with the actual spears to try and successfully hunt or kill a caribou with a spear or even with your bow and arrow, and lots of times it gets spooked and it would run off so the game that they developed, and this was brilliant, was the Snow Snake. They, these guys practice hunters; they practice them over and over where they can slide this really sharp spear from long distances because Caribou were known to sleep lying down sideways on flat plains so in the morning, especially when it was foggy or they're far away from a great distance, they would throw a snow snake, and try to at least plunge into the stomach of the sleeping caribou. And for the most part it wasn't meant to make the kill, if it was good enough throw it would, but it would at least wound the caribou and it create a blood trail so they would be able to follow the caribou and then eventually chase them down, right? The rest of the tribe would, the women and children and the elders, would catch up to the hunters and that's where they would set up camp and there is a big feast."

[Sharon Firth with images of snow snake beside her, footage of one-foot high kick, Meika McDonald doing Alaskan high kick, other athletes competing in the airplane, Meika McDonald speaking to team members, athletes having fun and laughing, competing in hand games and cultural dancing.]

The Snow Snake is an important way Dene people celebrate their culture. It keeps the tradition of land-based living a life in their youth. Overtime, the Arctic Winter Games has evolved to better reflect the people of the circumpolar region. The vibrant cultures of the Arctic, give light to a very unique experience for its athletes. More than just a sport competition, the Arctic Winter Games is a sport and social festival, bringing people together, celebrating arctic pride, knowledge, and cultures.

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