Dennita Cameron from the Cross Lake Band (Pimicikamak) in Northern Manitoba, knows how much it means to have positive role models and opportunity. Dennita has been involved in sports and dance for as long as she can remember, and thanks her mother for introducing and encouraging her her to be involved in physical activity, movement and competition.
“My mom signed me up for sports and dance ever since I can remember, and when I found what I love to do, I wanted to keep getting better… I like being active and when I started playing volleyball and competing in high jump I really enjoyed it.”
The Toronto 2017 NAIG casting call was held on Sunday, October, 23, 2016 and hosted more than 20 Indigenous youth who were excited to be featured as a ‘face’ of the 2017 Games. Most of the youth in attendance were former NAIG athletes, or were competing or currently involved in the tryout process for the 2017 Games. All in attendance, including Dennita, were aware of the positive impacts the North American Indigenous Games had on the youth and individuals involved from their communities.
Sport programs are a luxury for many Indigenous communities across North America – most communities lack the infrastructure or community resources to provide sport development programs or access to team sports. Barriers to participation in sport activities were a common theme among the youth in attendance of the Toronto 2017 NAIG Casting Call; each sharing a similar story of wanting to participate in sport activities that were not available within their home communities. For those lucky enough to have the resources to go beyond their communities for sport opportunity, they were often faced with travelling more than a few hours each way just to attend a weekly practice.
As a provincial track medalist, competitive dancer, and volleyball and basketball player, Dennita shared a similar story.
“Being up north we don’t get as many opportunities as others who live in bigger cities or in places down south, like with clubs for example. We have a short season and don’t get the same amount of game time. For track and volleyball, I travel sometimes over 8 hours one way to southern Manitoba for camps, practices, try outs and competitions like my track meets.”
Despite the barriers she has faced, Dennita has continued to pursue her goals and chase her dreams in the quest to ‘being better’ in her athletic career. This past summer Dennita travelled to the Legion Nationals in Quebec, and competed in the age-class championship in her home province where she won a gold medal in high jump.
For Dennita, travelling the almost 3,000 kilometers for the Toronto 2017 NAIG Casting Call was worth it for the experience and the chance to be a role model for her community and peers. When asked what it would mean to her to be the face of the 2017 Games, Dennita replied, “It would mean a lot to me because of all the hard work I’ve put in. I’m not only representing me but my family, community, culture and province as well.”
A lack of representation among Indigenous athletes in high performance or professional sports was a driving force for many youth in attendance of the Toronto 2017 NAIG Casting Call. To represent their communities, their families, their province and their peers meant travelling hours from home to ensure Indigenous athletes were represented.
“Everyone should hear about the positive stories about Indigenous athletes, you often hear about the negative stories but – we are more than that. There’s lots of us that have good stories and we should share those with the larger community.”