MINNEAPOLIS — Just last month, in Canada, there was an Olympic event... of sorts.
Every four years, the North American Indigenous Games showcases the hard work of Indigenous athletes from all over North America, or Turtle Island.
And Team Mni-Sota represented.
Among the team members were Muck-Wa Roberts Jr. and Amerin Chamberlain.
"When I was growing up I was always told sports was always a privilege, and I think that, too," Roberts Jr. said. "But sometimes people expect more out of you."
That kind of pressure was definitely on, as they represented Team Mni-Sota among hundreds of other teams comprised of the best of the best Indigenous athletes. The group competed in 15 different sports and the more than 5,000 attendees represented more than 756 different tribal nations.
"I thought it was cool," Chamberlain said. "I thought it was amazing that there was other Indigenous, native youth that play baseball. There's actually a surprisingly lot of people that play."
Billed as 50% sports and 50% culture, the young men who both live in Minneapolis got to meet other native youth from everywhere.
Organizer Chris Jourdain, who is up in Red Lake, said that's primarily the point.
"Exposing your kids to culture and letting them know who they are and to be proud of who they are," Jourdain said. "We've got a unique culture that a lot of people don't know about, including a lot of our own people."
Muck-Wa Roberts Sr, who went along with his son and who also coaches the Southside Red Bears basketball team, said it was a great opportunity for the students to learn that being Indigenous is not monolithic.
"We're all the same, but again, we're all different in a way," Roberts Sr. said. "We have different protocols to our culture and it's important for the kids to learn that."
As for the athleticism, coach David Olson-Iverson vouched that not only were the kids very good, but they've been good. The Indigenous players were already well-versed in the style of play that's popular now in basketball.
"The style of basketball that involves a lot of three-point shooting and run and gun," Olson-Iverson explained. "A lot of people give Steph Curry credit for that, which he does deserve a lot of credit, and the Golden State Warriors, but where I grew up near Red Lake Reservation, I was able to witness Indigenous basketball for years and be able to appreciate the style of basketball — and that style was invented a long time ago in the native communities."
Like all good sporting events, it ended with medals and autographed memorabilia. But Olson-Iverson said the best gift they received were the memories.
"A lot of great stories were shared, and I just think that people take those back to their communities, those conversations, and share them," Olson-Iverson said. "And people are already talking about the next Indigenous Games in Calgary."
The U19 men's basketball team brought home a silver medal, but congratulations are in order to all the other amazing athletes, too.
The next North American Indigenous Games is scheduled for 2027 in Calgary, Canada where some Mni-sota athletes will return.
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