The pounding of Salish Society drums set the beat for songs of praise and honour on Sunday, as the Sumas band of the Sto:lo Nation celebrated the prowess of their athletes in traditional fashion.
The event was a celebration of Team BC’s victory at the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in Regina in July. The team won the overall title for the most medals, as well as the John Fletcher Spirit Award for teamwork, fair play, and integrity. Team BC is the first squad in the history of the games to win both awards, and one of only two to ever beat Team Saskatchewan in a NAIG medal count.
Almost 5,000 athletes competed in the NAIG, representing 13 provinces and territories in Canada and 13 regions in the U.S.
Five athletes from Abbotsford were part of Team B.C., including three basketball players. Corey Hauck won gold with the U19 men’s basketball team. Jacob Firlotte put together a three-medal performance in U19 track and field, winning gold in the 100 metre and 200 metre events and a bronze in the 4×400 relay. Joshua Dubois also competed in track and field at the U16 level, and Jaylene Soegard and Denelle Hauck both played on the U19 women’s basketball team.
Lara Mussell Savage, a member of the council as well as one of Team BC’s general managers, helped form sport-specific committees for each of the 13 sports Team BC competed in, and oversaw the selection process through each committee.
Winning the John Fletcher Award as well as the medal count was icing on the cake for a team that set out to continue a tradition of sportsmanship begun at the annual National Aboriginal Hockey Championships.
“We let [the athletes] know that Team BC has a reputation of being a classy team,” said Mussell Savage, “and we wanted to continue that trend and just to remember at all times to portray and display those acts of sportsmanship and spirit and integrity.”
Athletes and coaches from the Fraser Region were honoured Sunday in a special ritual. After being led through the longhouse by traditional drummers and singers, the Team BC members were placed on strewn cedar boughs (a sacred wood), and welcomed individually by a receiving line of community members.