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2006 Indigenous Games wrap up in Denver

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DENVER – Nearly 10,000 Native athletes from the United States and Canada laced up their sneakers, packed up their athletic gear and hit the road for Denver July 2 to compete in the North American Indigenous Games.

Youths aged 13 – 19 and adults 20 and over competed in 16 different sports, all hoping to bring home the gold. More than 1,000 different tribes were represented in the week-long games, which featured teams from 25 states and 12 providences.

Athletes competed in their sports looking to bring home bronze, silver or gold medals. The competitions included basketball, volleyball, wrestling, lacrosse and several other activities.

Thousands of spectators traveled to Denver for the games, which were held at high schools, parks and athletic facilities in Denver, Aurora, Parker, Littleton, Lakewood and Colorado Springs.

The Indigenous Games is an Olympics-style sporting event for the benefit of indigenous people of North America. It is an opportunity for Native communities to share their traditional cultures, dress and sports. The first Indigenous Games were held in 1990 in Edmonton, Alberta; Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, in 1993; Blaine, Minn., in 1995; Victoria, British Columbia, in 1997; and Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 2002.

This year, the games were hosted by the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes, which officially pledged a combined total of $1.2 million as host sponsors of the competition.

The 2006 NAIG was organized and managed by the nonprofit Colorado Indigenous Games Society Inc., in partnership with the Native American Sports Council Inc., a nonprofit, 501(c)3 member of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Representatives from both host tribes also serve on the organizing committee, which includes representatives from the city of Denver and the state of Colorado.

The games focused on more than just athletics; they also tied together art and culture into the events, which ran July 2 – 8. The 2006 games kicked off with opening ceremonies at Invesco Field at Mile High. The teams enthusiastically greeted the crowd carrying their team flags and banners.

During the ceremonies, American Indians and First Nations peoples displayed their cultural pride, athletic prowess and sense of community. The event included a parade of athletes and an array of cultural performers.

The Indigenous Games’ mission states that they seek to “improve the quality of life for Indigenous Peoples by supporting self-determined sports and cultural activities which encourage equal access to participation in the social/cultural fabric of the community in which they reside and which respects Indigenous distinctiveness.”

The closing ceremony was held at Skyline Park on July 8. After the ceremonies, the athletes collected their medals, packed up their things, and headed home with new friendships, memories and dreams of the next games.

The next Indigenous Games are tentatively planned for August of 2008.