Something for Everyone

Something for Everyone

< Back to Articles | Topics: Member Profile | Contributors: Pam Sullivan | Published: June 1, 2023

When I spoke with Tex Marshall about his motivation for working to bring the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) to Halifax for 2023, the NAIG 2023 President and Board member was brief and to the point.

“It’s just about opportunities for youth. I don’t have any other reason other than that.”

Opportunities for Indigenous youth through sport and the sharing of cultural values does indeed seem to be at the very heart of the games, which Halifax/Kjipuktuk has the good fortune to host this coming July 15-23.

The initial games took place back in 1990 in Edmonton, Alberta, with Halifax/Kjipuktuk marking the 10th time the games have been held — eight times in Canada and two in the United States.

Marshall, himself of Mi’kmaq heritage, from Eskasoni First Nation, says it all began for him in the mid-90s, when, after beginning “more meaningful volunteer work” with Mi’kmaw youth in Nova Scotia sport, attended a forum in Calgary with Indigenous sport leaders from across the country. It was at that event that he announced his intention to host NAIG in Halifax, which, says Marshall, brought an unexpected reaction.

“A few people chuckled in the room, but I can tell you nobody’s laughing now,” he says.

NAIG 2023 Board Chair, Fiona Kirkpatrick Parsons, would likely agree. The Halifax resident, employed full-time as National Advisor at Deloitte Indigenous, has taken on no small feat as volunteer Chair. But if enthusiasm alone could fuel a person’s capacity and energy level, then she’s more than up to the considerable challenge of, as she calls it “being taskmaster at the Board level.”

On the day we chatted, Kirkpatrick Parsons, of Cree ancestry, was able to count down the days (90) ‘til the event. And it's that positive energy which she and the rest of the Board are hoping will catch on in Halifax/Kjipuktuk, and indeed across the entire province and country, in the weeks and days leading up to the Games.

With over 5,000 indigenous youth between the ages of 13 and 19 arriving in the city for the week of the games, Kirkpatrick Parsons is hoping for a warm Halifax/Kjipuktuk welcome for them.

“You know, they’re young and many are away from home for the first time, so I’m very hopeful that we can give them that sense of welcome, or Pjila’si — the mi’kmaq word for welcome, you know, come in and sit down,” she says. “We want all Haligonians and everyone in the region to make these youth feel at home here, so they’ll experience something wonderful to take home with them and remember for the rest of their lives.”

The largest multi-sport and cultural event in Atlantic Canada’s history (since European contact), the 5275 participants will be representing roughly 756 Indigenous nations from as far away as California, Florida, the Yukon, Nunavut, Newfoundland and Labrador, and everywhere in between. The Games will be comprised of 16 sports held over 21 venues across HRM, with the main cultural components taking place on the Halifax Common, the Halifax waterfront, and Dartmouth Crossing.

Kirkpatrick Parsons tells me everything is currently on schedule and on budget but adds that bringing the games to the city was a logistically challenging undertaking, made that much more challenging by the 2020 arrival of COVID-19. The city initially won the bid in 2018, with the games being two years out from that point. Not surprisingly, the games were then pushed to 2021, and finally to 2023.

“We were starting to think about 2021 and planning for that, but it quickly became apparent that that was a no-go. And of course, we were in constant contact with Dr. Robert Strang, who heads up our Medical Governance Committee, and he just confirmed what we already knew,” she says.

Much of the heavy lifting, says Kirkpatrick Parsons, in terms of planning and partnerships was already in place so it was a matter of re-connecting to make sure availability and dates would still work for a 2023 go-ahead.

“In 2020 we were absolutely on track to host the Games. We had our funding and sponsors in place, and venues and accommodations booked,“ she says. “Thankfully, all our previous partners, such as the universities: Dalhousie, SMU, Mount Saint Vincent, and some of the hotels, all had accommodations for us. It was a bit of a scramble, but we have an amazing team, and our CEO, Brendan Smithson, is leading a tremendous staff who are experienced and passionate about these Games.“

Seconding the strength and commitment of the local people behind the scenes is Discover Halifax President and CEO, Ross Jefferson — one of several partner agencies which worked to bring about a successful Halifax bid — who is generous in his praise of both the event and the people who are making it a reality.

“I don’t know if everybody really appreciates that these games are completely and entirely designed, put together – all of the logistics, all of the planning – by the local community here. Unlike many events, these games are being built from the grassroots here. So I really wanted to give a shout out of recognition to all the work that’s been going on since we won the Games,“ Jefferson says.

The one common thread which runs through conversations about NAIG 2023 is around the participating Indigenous youth. Beyond just a cultural or sporting event, NAIG 2023 seems first and foremost to be about creating a warm, welcoming, and memorable experience for them. Kirkpatrick Parsons’ hope and excitement for what the event could mean for not only the athletes, but for the city and its residents, is both inspiring and hopeful — in equal measures.

“I think it’s going to be transformative. I sometimes look at the world through rose-coloured glasses, but I actually feel that it’s going to change us here in Halifax. We don’t have a high level of Indigenous visibility, though I’d say more now than in the past,” she says.

Part of that transformation, Kirkpatrick Parsons is hoping, will come from a building excitement around and interaction with the Games. That residents and visitors alike will embrace the many opportunities to not only witness the sports events — all of which are free (other than the opening ceremonies), but the many cultural events taking place over the eight days. Striving for a 50/50 culture and sports split, she wants to get across that there will be something for everyone.

“The cultural demonstrations will be there for everyone. What you’ll see when you attend one of the sporting events is a culture demonstration — which is baked into everything we do. We can’t separate the two,” she says.

There will be nightly performances and cultural demonstrations on the Halifax Common, and opportunities to learn how to play lacrosse, try your hand at some bead work, learn how a canoe gets built, and much more.

And in terms of economic spin-off and local business involvement, Kirkpatrick Parsons says the conservative estimate for direct economic impact is predicted to be over $24 million, with business interest and offers of sponsorship — often the most challenging part of any event – overwhelmingly strong.

“You know, getting that engagement is usually the hardest part, but that hasn’t been an issue for us whatsoever, which really sends us a signal. A signal that the city is ready to host something like this,” she says.

The importance of the Games, coming as they do at a crucial time in terms of Indigenous relations and reconciliation in this country, is not lost on Kirkpatrick Parsons.

“Let’s face it, Indigenous peoples are now more top of mind than ever before amongst non-Indigenous peoples, and I think more and more people are asking themselves what they personally can do as an act of reconciliation, becoming more and more aware of the actual truth of our shared history. I’d say come and participate,” she says. “Learn a couple of words in Mi’kmaw and greet kids when you see them around town.”

For businesses, she says, look at how you can best welcome the athletes, citing examples such as specials for athletes who display a participant badge, or something as simple as putting up a welcome sign. At the end of the day, she says, it’s about providing a welcoming place for the participants.

The overwhelming feeling I’m left with after speaking with both Tex Marshall and Fiona Kirkpatrick Parsons, is one of hope and comradery: a desire for us all to put our best foot and face forward to welcome this impressive and inspiring generation of Indigenous youth. More than just a sport and culture event, it’s the possibility it creates for a real coming together of shared human values — an opportunity for Halifax/Kjipuktuk to roll out the red carpet of hospitality/Pjila’si, which Nova Scotians are famous for. Kirkpatrick Parsons sums it up nicely.

“We want everyone to feel like not only are we creating a safe, welcoming space for youth, but really a truly safe and welcoming place for everyone.”

For more information, volunteer opportunities, and a full schedule of events and activities, visit:

Scan the QR code for assets for businesses on how you can prep your spaces for the Games.

< Back to Articles | Topics: Member Profile

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