- Julia Peterson | June 07, 2021
For 50 years, the Saskatchewan Winter Games have been an opportunity for young athletes in the province to test their skills and advance to higher levels of competition. And even though there are months to go before the athletes lace up their shoes, sharpen their skates and buckle their ski boots, the upcoming Games are already breaking records and marking milestones.
Next year’s Saskatchewan Winter Games will run from February 20th to the 26th, and will be the first time the Games have been hosted in Regina. Also for the first time this year, the Games’ Host Society is fully led by women, including many Indigenous women.
Crystal Longman is the Vice Chair of Athlete Experience and Inclusion, and the first Indigenous Vice Chair in Saskatchewan Winter Games history. She hopes young Indigenous athletes and sports enthusiasts will see how they are being represented at every stage of the planning process and feel welcome.
“We want other First Nations and Metis people to see us and to want to come to our games and feel comfortable,” she said. “Sometimes, when you see someone of Indigenous ancestry doing something positive, you want to cheer them on and be happy for them. And I hope we’ll get some cheer and some support from our community when they see us at the games.”
Reila Bird, Vice President of Athlete Experience, says the Saskatchewan Winter Games can be a “stepping stone” for Indigenous athletes to take on other challenges and competitions.
“This can set the foundation for our athletes to be able to participate in the Tony Cote summer and winter games or the North American Indigenous Games or to join their community teams and become participants in various areas of sports,” she said.
One of the ways the Host Committee is planning to make next year’s Games a welcoming experience is through cultural programming. Gaylene Anaquod is the Vice President of Ceremonies and Culture, and in that role, she has been encouraging volunteers to come up with new and memorable ideas.
“With respect to culture and ceremonies, a lot of the work is about being able to have and represent what Saskatchewan is in terms of culture and nationalities and all the diversity that we have,” she said. “So that is a really good challenge.”
Looking to the Games’ next 50 years, Bird hopes future cities can take some lessons from this year’s planning process, where Games Chair Valerie Sluth prioritized diversity and inclusion from the start.
“I think that future host cities can definitely watch what we’re doing with our mission and vision and values this year, and move that into the years coming up, keeping in mind that inclusion of many different people - the balance of gender, having more women and Indigenous people in leadership roles,” Bird said. “I think we need to start thinking in terms of diversity and inclusion of all, not just having the same people in the same positions year after year.”