No longer 'begging people' to try out: The plan to boost popularity of Arctic sports in Nunavut

·4 min read
Wesley Innukshuk competing in an Arctic sport event in Inuvik, N.W.T., in 1995.. He's recently offered to coach athletes in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. (Submitted by Wesley Innukshuk - image credit)
Wesley Innukshuk competing in an Arctic sport event in Inuvik, N.W.T., in 1995.. He's recently offered to coach athletes in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. (Submitted by Wesley Innukshuk - image credit)

Over the years, participation in Arctic Sports in Nunavut has been dwindling, says Dawn Currie, but she and her team have a plan to change that.

She's the interim director of Nunavut's first ever Arctic Sports Association, which officially incorporated last July.

As it looks ahead to its first annual general meeting this summer — one of its upcoming events it's using to grow the organization — the association hopes to rejuvenate the sport by helping communities set up local Arctic sport programs.

Submitted by Dawn Currie
Submitted by Dawn Currie

To Currie, Nunavut has been long-overdue for a territorial Arctic sports organization.

She said the territory is about 20 years behind and the number of athletes, coaches and officials has declined because their main effort has been to host a selection of people to attend Arctic Winter Games.

Arctic Sports consists of several events, like the one and two-foot high kick events, the head pull, the Alaskan high kick and various forms of jumps. The sports have roots in Inuit culture and a way of life — the games were made to help people prepare to go out on the land and to hunt.

"I would love to see this association grow back to the numbers that we had 20, 30, 40 years ago where people — they wanted to be a part of it," Currie said. "I would love to have multiple coaches in all the communities."

Growth plans

Right now, there are three people on the association's board, but it's hoped that number will grow after the upcoming AGM, which is happening during the 2023 Arctic Winter Games's Territorial Selections in Rankin Inlet in August.

"We have some great individuals on our board, we have some great individuals in the communities that have tremendous knowledge and tremendous experience," she said.

Currie wants those individuals to build the next generation of athletes, coaches and officials.

The board is looking to bring in coaches for a territorial symposium this year, and in the future.

That's where coaches could be given some direction and support to work with younger athletes in their communities, she said.

Soon, Currie, who has also been the executive director of the Recreation and Parks Association of Nunavut for the last 14 years, wants to bring on someone who can work with her for a year or two within the Arctic Sports Association. From there, that person would eventually assume the position of executive director.

In the fall, the board is looking to round up a small group of people who can travel to communities for Arctic sport clinics.

"I have a pretty big vision, but I think it's achievable," she said.

Submitted by Wesley Innukshuk
Submitted by Wesley Innukshuk

Currie also wants a yearly regional competition so athletes have more chances to compete outside the Arctic Winter Games, which are hosted every two years.

"I would love for us to be able to have … an annual event where our numbers are high, where we're not begging people to try out for the teams," she said, "where we have so many people that it's a big, fun event."

Submitted by Wesley Innukshuk
Submitted by Wesley Innukshuk

Budding interest in Rankin Inlet

Meanwhile, in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, a former athlete is rejuvenating sports in his community. Wesley Innukshuk says one of his former coaches recently called him to see if he'd be interested in becoming a coach.

Innukshuk used to compete in Arctic Sports, but after he stopped about 15 years ago, he wasn't sure if anyone else would be interested in learning.

"I could have started coaching right after [competing], but I was afraid of people not being interested because the sport just went down," he said. "No one was interested here in Rankin. But now we're trying to get athletes again back in Arctic sports and go from there."

About two weeks ago, he put out an offer over Facebook to coach the men's and junior boys' teams, and he was shocked by the number of people who were interested. His post received 189 likes and 38 comments. So far, he said 10 young people ranging from 11 years old to over 25 years old signed up.

"I was expecting like two or three interested … I didn't expect that many. So I'm excited to start to teach what I was taught," he said, adding he's also a bit nervous.

Submitted by Wesley Innukshuk
Submitted by Wesley Innukshuk

As a former athlete, he hopes to pass on his knowledge, but he also hopes by getting youth engaged in traditional sports that it will keep them on a good path.

"Our youth, they're the future generation," he said. "I agreed to that coaching position for Arctic sports to help out and to keep our young athletes … to stay away from alcohol and drugs. It's really painful to see teenagers drunk or getting arrested."

Innukshuk hopes to start training them by the end of May, and have them ready to compete at the territorial selections in August.

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