Team Nunavut comes together for North American Indigenous Games

More than 5,000 young Indigenous athletes from around North America will compete in 16 sports as the North American Indigenous Games kick off this weekend in Halifax. 

About 60 of those athletes are from Nunavut, representing communities from across the territory. 

Nunavut will compete in volleyball, badminton and wrestling. 

For many of Nunavut’s athletes, coming to the games also marks the first time they’ve been together as a team. With athletes from different fly-in communities, they often only meet in competitions — if at all. 

For Chastity St. John, a 19-year-old wrestler form Arviat, it’s an opportunity to bond. 

“Back at home, training isn’t as accessible as [for] people that aren’t from Nunavut. So I’m pretty excited to meet new people and wrestle again,” she said, speaking to CBC on her way to Halifax. 

Team Nunavut’s slogan will be: “Atii, Aksut!” which means, “Go ahead, try hard!” in Inuktitut. 

A man sits next to two teenagers, all wearing black t-shirts that say wrestling.
From left to right: Team Nunavut wrestling coach Chris Crooks, Team Nunavut wrestlers Thayer Komakjuak and Chastity St. John. (Zoom screenshot/CBC )

St. John is one of 13 wrestlers heading to the games to represent the territory. She said she first started wrestling because she wanted to try something new. 

“I wanted to do something different and I wanted to challenge myself mentally,” she said. 

“Leaving home and making new friends and going to different places … it’s been really great.” 

And she has an entire community behind her. 

“I know I have people back at home that have my back, and I’m just going to try my best,” she said. 

Chris Crooks, Team Nunavut’s wrestling coach, said it’s important for the athletes to come together early and build confidence going into the games.

“It’s difficult in Nunavut … we don’t always get the opportunity to get together very often,” Crooks said. 

“We try to motivate each other through social media but to get together, it’s really positive.”

Crooks, who watched one of his athletes, Eekeeluak Avalak, win gold at the Canada Summer Games last year, said Nunavut’s team is strong.

“I like my athletes to be competitive and understand that they do have ability,” he said. 

“Whether that means winning a gold medal or whether that means scoring a point when they thought they couldn’t, or just not giving up in a really tough match.”

Thayer Komakjuak, 18, is another wrestler from Arviat. 

“It feels good to go down south and be able to wrestle other people,” he said. 

“My sister wanted me to wrestle so I wanted to follow her,” he added. 

Robert Kabvitok, a coach for Team Nunavut’s girls volleyball team, said he’s proud ot be one of a handful of Inuit coaches from Nunavut heading to the Games. 

“This an Indigenous tournament and there are four Inuit coaching. I was so proud to see it,” he said. 

The volleybal team is made up of 12 girls from all over Nunavut. Kabvitok said they went to Halifax early to prepare.

“We do some team bonding activities and some hard drills,” he said. 

He added that he’s already seen friendships form after just a few days in Halifax. 

“After practice the girls would usually take off, but this morning they sat around with each other and were laughing,” he said. 

“That goes far, where you become a team and best friends. It will help on the court.”

The games, which take place every four years, run from July 15 to July 23 in Halifax and surrounding communities. 

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