Nunavik sends strong team to the AWG

“We’re getting our foot in the door,” KRG’s recreation director says


Five years ago, Nunavik’s participation in the Arctic Winter Games was more of a dream than a reality.

That’s because the region’s athletes hadn’t attended any games since 1976, and Nunavik’s sports infrastructure — except for hockey — was almost non-existent.

Then, in 1998, a delegation from Nunavik went to Yellowknife to observe how the Arctic Winter Games worked and to see what Nunavik would have to do to participate once again in the event.

Since then, as one staunch AWG promoter in Nunavik put it, “we’ve been building the airplane as we fly it.”

In 2000, 20 athletes from Nunavik travelled to the Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse as guest competitors — and they came home with 13 ulus.

This year, Nunavik will still be a guest participant at the AWG, but will send 32 athletes to Iqaluit and Nuuk. Many of them will have a good chance at winning gold, silver or bronze ulus.

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“We’re getting our foot in the door,” said Frankie Gordon, director of recreation for the Kativik Regional Government, and Nunavik’s Chef de mission in Iqaluit.

Easing back into full membership at the games is giving Nunavik time to fine-tune its sports organization and regional training efforts.

Back in 1997, Inuit games had pretty much dropped from the scene in Nunavik.

To rekindle interest, a Canada Youth Service project sponsored by the KRG began to bring the games back. Inuit games were seen as a way to encourage youth to set goals, develop personal esteem, and foster new skills.

Physical education teachers with the Kativik School Board helped kick-start the interest in Inuit games, although since then newly-trained youth and recreation coordinators in the communities have largely taken over the task.

Jusipi Tullugak, Puvirnituq’s recreation coordinator, has even become an official coach for Inuit games.

Recently 84 aspiring AWG participants turned out for regional AWG trials in Kuujjuaraapik. Of those chosen to attend the games, several came from Umiujaq, Inukjuak, Puvirnituq, Quaqtaq and Kuujjuaq.

Allan Brown, a physical education counsellor with the KSB who’s promoted participation in the games, says the size of the community has little relationship to individual skill level at the trials.

“The success depends on the people in the community,” Brown said, singling out Puvirnituq’s Tullugak, Matthew Sala of Umiujaq, Eric Atagotaaluk of Inukjuak, and Aloupa Kulula of Quaqtaq for special mention. “It’s people, not equipment that counts.”

Nunavik’s AWG athletes range in age from 14 to 28. Right now, Nunavik is only entering athletes in the Inuit and Dene games categories.

Brown said there are many skilled jumpers among the participants. Two Cree from Whapmagoostui, Kuujjuaraapik’s neighbouring Cree community, are joining the Nunavik team, to compete in the Open Male Dene Games.

Nunavik’s AWG team will be meeting in Kuujjuaq on March 13 for a few days of pep talks and preparation for the games.

While some of the participants have already travelled as far away as Germany to attend sports events, for others it will be the first time at a large sports gathering, and for most it will be their first visit to Iqaluit or Nuuk.

“We want to make sure they understand the rules and their responsibilities,” Gordon said.

An effort was made during the selection process to ensure those on the team are good students — if still in school — and mature enough to be good ambassadors for the community and region.

While their overall performance is important since it will pave the way for Nunavik’s full membership in future games, Gordon said athletes will be encouraged to aim for their personal best during competition, and not to worry about winning ulus.

Given the cost of participating in the Arctic Winter Games — about $300,000 — Gordon is very eager to pass on thanks to all those who have contributed to date, a long list that includes the Quebec government, the KRG,

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