Something remarkable happened in Victoria this week.
Late on Monday morning I walked into the Songhees Cultural Centre on the lower floor of the Steamship Terminal Building in the Inner Harbour. I’m not sure what I was expecting. But I was thrilled to see such a packed room. And happy to see so many of my colleagues; there was at least one elected official from each local government across the region.
We were there with local business leaders, media and community members to throw our wholehearted support behind the Songhees Nation in their bid to host the 2020 North American Indigenous Games.
The Games were created in the 1990s as a catalyst to support the health and well being of Indigenous youth through sport and cultural activities. The Games today are a symbol of respect, friendship and athletic achievement.
The event serves as a powerful opportunity to showcase the rich Indigenous cultures from across North America and to foster understanding.
Teamwork and the practice and rewards of discipline and dedication are valuable experiences for anyone. These are particularly important for Indigenous youth, for whom we must all work together as a community – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – to ensure this next generation has a future full of cultural pride, optimism, opportunity, health and prosperity. Pride, success, celebration and harnessing the strength of their distinct cultures are transformational experiences for all, but especially for youth on whom the Games focus.
Bringing the North American Indigenous Games to Greater Victoria also makes great economic sense. The Games will be a significant economic generator for the entire region. The Toronto 2017 Games generated over $44 million for the regional economy. And we expect more delegates than Toronto.
Family members, coaches and chaperones will come to support the approximately 5,000 athletes who will compete in 3-D archery, athletics, badminton, baseball (male), basketball, box lacrosse, canoe/kayaking, golf, rifle shooting, soccer, softball (female), swimming, volleyball and wrestling.
The Songhees’ dream of hosting the Games is not a slam dunk by any means – Winnipeg, Halifax and Ottawa are all in the running. And the Songhees and their partners have a lot of work to do between now and the bid deadline of March 16. But there’s something special happening here in the region that bodes very well for their bid: we are united as a region behind them.
In his remarks at the event, Chief Ron Sam shared with us a word in the Lekwungen language, “NÉTSAMAÁT” which means “together we are one.” This North American Indigenous Games bid is a big deal in the era of reconciliation. It’s an opportunity for us as settler allies to stand with the Songhees and partner nations and to support them in any way we can.
And when they are successful in winning the bid we will celebrate with them, as a community. And when they host the Games in 2020, we will stand beside them as they watch their young athletes compete with pride in their culture and with achievable aspirations and opportunities for a very bright future.
Lisa Helps is the mayor of the City of Victoria.