Young First Nations athletes had the opportunity last week to take part in a variety of sports and find inspiration from individuals who have risen all the way to the professional ranks at the first ever Tsets’uw Suwa’lum Games.
A revival of the Coast Salish Games, led by Cowichan Tribes, the Tsets’uw Suwa’lum Games are a multi-sport event for First Nations kids ages seven to 12, a unique event on Vancouver Island.
“The whole idea is to have them engaged in all the sports they want,” said Cowichan Tribes recreation director Dano Thorne.
Focused primarily on participation instead of results, the games included four sports — soccer, basketball, swimming and floor hockey — and Sluhel’, the traditional Coast Salish game also known as the bone game. Participating teams came from as far away as Snaw-Na-Was, Port Renfrew, and the Victoria-area Songhees and Esquimalt nations. Two friendship centres were also involved.
“[Cowichan Tribes] have taken the lead in the revival of the games,” Thorne explained. “We asked other Coast Salish nations and the friendship centres to partner in the creation of the games and to help make it sustainable in the future.”
The last Coast Salish Games took place in 2014.
Last week’s event was a trial run of sorts for a bigger event in mid-summer that will involve older age groups and more competitions, Thorne said. It could also help prepare athletes for the North American Indigenous Games, which are open to the 13-19 age group.
“This is a developmental games,” he related. “It’s an opportunity to have fun and participate in sports, and to gain the excitement of possibly moving forward in one of the sports.
“We’re developing a games where it’s a fun training ground that identifies with our heritage as well — the kids’ heritage.”
Organizers brought in local leaders, including Chief William Seymour, and the Tzinquaw Dancers, who performed at the opening ceremonies, to help inspire the young athletes. Former Canadian Football League player Dave Cutler attended and spoke to the participants, as did current Vancouver Whitecaps Russell Teibert and Erik Hurtado.
Teibert, who is also a Canadian international, encouraged the youngsters to continue to pursue sports that they love, sharing anecdotes about his career as he answered questions from the group.
“Soccer has done a lot of good things for us in our lives,” he said. “Play sports for the love of the game. Have fun.”