For sport and community: Dal volunteers eager to help make North American Indigenous Games a success

- July 14, 2023

Photo of dancers courtesy the 2023 NAIG.
Photo of dancers courtesy the 2023 NAIG.

This week, more than 5,000 Indigenous athletes, coaches, and team staff are arriving in Mi’kma’ki for the 2023 North American Indigenous Games. Representing 756 Indigenous Nations, the teams will be welcomed by 3,000 volunteers.

Read more: Dal welcomes athletes to campus for the North American Indigenous Games

For several Dal community members, it was an easy choice to get involved.

“I have been invoked in multiple Canada Games, as an athlete, coach, mission staff and chef,” says Michelle Aucoin (pictured), interim women’s volleyball head coach for the varsity Tigers. “I love multi-sport games, so when the opportunity arose to get involved with NAIG, it was a simple decision for me.”

That love for sport also drew in both Dal athlete Kelsey Crocker and adjunct faculty member Kathy Spurr.

“It's been great to see and be a part of the behind the scenes for these games as I've only ever been a player at an event like this, so I've been learning a lot,” says Kelsey, who plays for the Tigers women’s basketball team.

“These Games were originally scheduled for 2020 but were postponed due to the pandemic, so the anticipation has been building now for three years,” says Kathy (pictured), who teaches in Dal’s School of Health Sciences and is a Tigers basketball alum. Kathy also played basketball professionally in Germany before coaching basketball at Halifax Grammar School.

Connecting cultures

It’s not just the excitement of thousands of teenagers competing in 16 different sports that drew in volunteers. The NAIG offers an to celebrate Indigenous cultures, both from Mi’kma’ki and across Turtle Island. The games, which takes place over nine days at 21 different venues, will centre that cultural celebration by incorporating Mi’kmaw values and traditions into the games. That includes training and education for the volunteers.

Kelsey, Michelle, and Kathy all say that opportunity to learn led them to volunteer as sports leads, who oversee the games and ensure the logistics run smoothly.

Michelle notes that there are thousands of volunteers, “who now all have a better understanding of indigenous culture. Information is powerful in helping to create a more inclusive society.”

“It's an opportunity to immerse myself in and learn more about Indigenous cultures while giving back to the sport of basketball,” says Kathy.

The power of sport

For Kelsey, the role of sports in fostering inclusion and community doesn’t stop there. It leaves a large personal impact as well.

“Growing up playing sports had a huge impact on my life. It teaches players at a young age the importance of teamwork, hard work and having fun while staying physically active, says Kelsey (pictured).

“I'm still best friends with the people I grew up playing sports with, so it’s also a great opportunity for these players to gain new lifelong friendships through sports.”

Dalhousie is hosting basketball and swimming, with around 200 swimmers competing at the Dalplex pool, and 18 different basketball teams from across North America competing at Sexton and Dalplex gyms.

“NAIG will be something these players will remember forever whether they know that yet or not. Being able to attend these games is a great opportunity for these players to explore a new city with family and friends, while getting to compete and have fun doing the sport they love,” says Kelsey.

The games are held every four years, and with the support of dedicated volunteers like Kelsey, Kathy, and Michelle, they are set to leave a lasting impact on the community hosting the games, the athletes, and the volunteers themselves.

“Sport has the power and ability to be a powerful tool in creating a more inclusive society.  Although NAIG will only happen for one week, the legacy it will leave on our communities will last for much longer,” says Michelle.


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