Gabrielle McLeod, Jerrica Sanderson and Desiree Charlo after winning hand games gold at the 2023 Arctic Winter Games. Ollie Williams/Team NT
The NWT government says “more needs to be done” to address a lack of Indigenous representation on Team NT at some major sports events.
The territory was responding to a Cabin Radio report in which some athletes competing for the NWT at the Canada Winter Games said Indigenous representation at the games appeared limited.
“It’s kind-of just us, and then a few other people, but we definitely haven’t seen many,” said Inuvik curler Reese Wainman last week.
Ethnicity is not currently tracked by Team NT’s organizers, so the exact number of Indigenous athletes on the team is not clear.
In an email to Cabin Radio, the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs stated that the NWT’s population is 51-percent Indigenous – and Team NT “does not have the same percentage of Indigenous participants.”
“More needs to be done to better prepare Indigenous athletes to compete for a place on Team NT,” department spokesperson Jay Boast wrote.
Boast said the same problem exists at a national level, pointing to a 2019 meeting ahead of that year’s Canada Games at which provincial and territorial ministers had requested a “sustainable strategy that promotes the participation of Indigenous athletes and coaches.”
At an equivalent meeting four years later – held in this year’s Canada Games host city, Charlottetown, last month – ministers “met with Aboriginal Sport Circle to discuss shared priorities to increase Indigenous participation in sport,” a news release states.
Lacrosse will be added to the Canada Summer Games program from 2025. The same news release described lacrosse as “one of the tools for increasing Indigenous participation at the Canada Games.”
What’s being done?
In interviews with Cabin Radio, athletes and sports administrators said a lack of coaches and facilities outside Yellowknife made reaching major sports events from smaller NWT communities difficult.
Responding to those concerns, Maca made no fresh commitments but pointed to work being done to try to address what it called “challenges with capacity building at the community level.”
“The number of volunteers and sport leaders in every community needs to be increased to help young athletes on their path to development,” Boast wrote, adding that governments need to find “creative ways to support investment into local infrastructure, and additional resources that can provide increased capacity and opportunities for athletes to train and compete within their own community.”
Boast said Maca was working “with community recreation leaders to ensure access to funding opportunities and programming.”
He said the department funds regional sports events, makes contributions for recreation and sport programming to community governments and territorial sports organizations, and provides training opportunities for coaches, among other supports.
Responding to the concern that athletes from communities outside Yellowknife feel at a disadvantage when competing for places on Team NT, Boast wrote: “All residents should have an equitable opportunity to attend selection events or try-outs, and all athletes should be supported to prepare for selection events.”
He focused on the opportunities provided by the Arctic Winter Games and North American Indigenous Games, which include traditional sports not found on the Canada Games schedule and involve different selection processes. (To compete at NAIG, Indigenous ancestry is a prerequisite.)
Asked what could change to make access to Team NT more equitable across the territory, Maca said an “essential component” was developing coaches, officials and volunteers in all communities, paired with investments from community governments in facilities.
Boast said the territory would also look to a national strategy on Indigenous sport, recreation and traditional practices as a chance “to work with the Aboriginal Sport Circle of the NWT in a strategic way to support objectives that will build capacity.”