Circumpolar Athletes compete in AWG

Focus on team Nunavik-Québec

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Team Nunavik-Québec held a pre-departure parade in the streets of Kuujjuaq on March 3, 2016. © Kativik Regional Government (6)

Members of team Nunavik-Québec landed in Nuuk, Greenland, ready to compete, as well as learn about another Inuit territory. Poor weather in Nuuk and Iqaluit, Nunavut, (where most teams were stopping to refuel) delayed nearly every athlete’s arrival by as many as three days and many sports lost a day of competition during the March 5 to 11 event.

Despite this, the event organizers remained on track and the Games went smoothly. Even during regularly blowing snow throughout the
week, volunteers and just about every resident of Nuuk remained ready with a smile and a helping hand to show visitors where to go or what to do.

Held every two years, the Arctic Winter Games (AWG) started in 1967 in Yellowknife, Northwest territories, as a way for circumpolar athletes to compete in sports while also preserving traditional games and cultural activities. Nuuk — Greenland’s capital city of 17,000 — is surrounded by dramatic, snowcovered fjords and last held the games in 2002.

Six-time Arctic Winter Games participant Deseray Cumberbatch won a silver Ulu in 2016 in the Arctic Sport One Foot High Kick.
Six-time Arctic Winter Games participant Deseray Cumberbatch won a silver Ulu in 2016 in the Arctic Sport One Foot High Kick.

Its unique mix of Inuit and Danish culture made for an interesting experience for many participants, who largely hailed from North American regions like Nunavik, Nunavut, NWT, Yukon and Alaska.
team Nunavik (TNQ) has traditionally been strong in Arctic (aka Inuit) Sports and Dene Games. this AWG was no different with 13 of the team’s 21 ulus being earned in Dene Games competitions such as finger pull, stick pull, pole push and hand games. overall, TNQ’s 57 athletes performed well, especially considering the team’s small size.

In Arctic Sports, Inukjuak’s Deseray Cumberbatch earned an amazing four ulus in one-foot high kick, two-foot high kick, sledge jump and arm pull. A veteran of six AWGs, she later described Nuuk as her best ever Games, which may have something to do with her dad watching her live for the first time. understandably, the experience was, at times, visibly emotional for the two of them.

Cumberbatch’s father is one of many Nunavik parents who travelled to Nuuk to cheer on TNQ athletes. the team also had a resident Elder, Louisa Cookie-Brown, who helped support the athletes and lifted team morale through her positive spirit and good nature.
During the games, Cookie-Brown also met with Greenlandic elders to share stories and perspectives from both regions.

Another TNQ sporting highlight from the games were improved performances by its cross-country and snowshoe athletes. These results came through the athletes’ hard work, which was supported by the implementation of a pilot training and development program by the Kativik Regional Government. The program hired full-time professional coaches in three Nunavik communities and the athletes responded.

“A lot of them are going out on their own and don’t need to be pushed,” said Conor Goddard, who worked as TNQ AWG mission staff for the two sports and coordinated the pilot project. “They’re thirsty for it. They’re showing up to practice, sometimes six or seven days a week, because they love the fact they’re getting this training.”

Along with being an athletic competition, the Games are also an incredible display of circumpolar cultural performances. Each contingent brings a cultural team that performs throughout the week and at two impressive gala shows. Team Nunavik’s was Puvirnituq’s Qulliq Band, which plays Inuktitut music from the region. Along with its upbeat tunes, it impressed the crowd with what it dubbed “throat boxing,” a combination of hip hop beat boxing and Inuit throat singing.

Overall, the team had an incredible time on a number of levels. “We’ve been overwhelmed by how generous people in Nuuk have been with their time, as well as how curious they are about our region of Nunavik. Sharing information about who we are as Inuit has helped us realize how much we have in common with Greenlandic Inuit,” says Nancianne Grey, the team’s Chef de Mission. “It’s also opened our eyes to how large the Inuit world really is. More than anything, members of team Nunavik-Québec feel they’ve gained many new friends.”

Along with serving as Chef de Mission, Grey works as the Director of the Kativik Regional Government’s Recreation Department. The KRG understands the importance of promoting the type of healthy lifestyles the games encourage, which is why it’s working hard to increase the number of Nunavik athletes who can attend future games. Currently competing in Arctic Sports, Dene Games, Badminton, table tennis, Snowshoe and Cross-country Skiing, the KRG is also hoping to increase the number of sports in which TNQ can compete. hockey is of particular interest as it’s incredibly popular in the region.

After a great cultural and sporting experience in Nuuk, the next games will be held in 2018 in the South Slave region of the NWT and you can be sure team Nunavik-Québec will be there!

Kativik Regional Government