The new president of the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) Council seems to have made history out of the gate.
Shannon Dunfield, a 47-year-old Métis woman who lives in Grande Prairie, Alta., was named to lead the NAIG Council at its annual general meeting held virtually on Oct. 28.
Dunfield is believed to be the first Métis to serve as council president in the organization’s 30-year history.
“I think it’s really exciting,” Dunfield said. “I see this as an opportunity for our Métis people to have a larger voice at the national level.
“It’s not something I’ll push for. But I do hope to raise some awareness about Métis people from across Canada.”
The new president replaces Dale Plett, who was selected to head up the NAIG Council in 2018, but who was no longer eligible to hold the position.
That’s because Plett left her job as the director of engagement, operations and policy with Indigenous Sport and Wellness Ontario in September. In order to serve on the NAIG Council, one also needs to be working for an Indigenous provincial, territorial or regional sports governing body.
Dunfield is chair of the Indigenous Sport Council of Alberta (ISCA).
Plett made history, herself, when named NAIG Council president, the first woman to hold the position.
Dunfield said she knew a week before the AGM she would be nominated for the role.
Mel Whitesell, the executive director of the Manitoba Aboriginal Sports and Recreation Council, who is also the NAIG Council’s treasurer, nominated Dunfield for president.
“I knew beforehand because they wanted me to consider it,” Dunfield said. “I really do volunteer a lot so I did take my time to consider it. I went to my husband first because he’s been my biggest supporter. And then I went to my children.”
Dunfield has a 21-year-old daughter Tutchone, who is in her final year of studies at Royal Roads University in Victoria, and a 17-year-old son, Takoda, who is a Grade 12 student.
Once she had her family’s support, Dunfield agreed she would be willing to have her nomination for NAIG Council president stand.
Two others were also nominated at the AGM. But they both declined their nominations, paving the way for Dunfield to assume the role without a vote required.
Whitesell believes Dunfield will be a great leader for the NAIG Council.
“Shannon has a heart for all of Turtle Island and wants the best for all of our Indigenous youth from coast to coast to coast,” Whitesell said. “The last two years we have worked really hard together and I believe Shannon will take the foundation of what we have been building and keep the positive momentum going.”
Dunfield is also keen to start her new responsibilities.
“I’m really excited about it,” she said. “I have some big shoes to fill. Dale did a really fantastic job.”
Though she is now NAIG Council president, Dunfield has no idea when the next NAIG will be. In fact, nobody knows.
Because of the pandemic, the Games, which were scheduled to be held in Halifax this past July were postponed.
Originally, the postponed Games were rescheduled for July 2021. But then in September it was announced the rescheduled Games were postponed indefinitely, since organizers were not sure when they would be able to safely allow more than 5,000 athletes and coaches to congregate in Halifax for the multi-sport competition.
Dunfield said the earliest the next Games will be held will be in 2022.
“I’ve always had the philosophy things happen for a reason,” she said. “And I’m always a really patient person. I know it’s hard on our youth and our coaches with the uncertainty of when the Games will be held.”
But Dunfield insists she’s not upset leading an organization that does not know when its next Games will be staged.
“I’m not disappointed,” she said. “I’m just looking forward to how we can get back on track.”
Dunfield currently works as the manager of Indigenous Health and Diversity for Alberta Health Services’ North Zone.
Her work supports 33 First Nations in the province as well as eight Métis settlements and five out of the six regions of the Métis Nation of Alberta, of which she is a member.
Besides donating her time to fulfil her roles as NAIG Council president and ISCA chair, Dunfield’s other volunteerism includes being co-chair of Grande Prairie Aboriginal Circle of Services, vice-president of Métis Local 1990 and a member of Grande Prairie’s Community Knowledge Campus advisory council.
By Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CFWE