Tseshaht First Nation is getting ready to honour some of its young athletes.
The Nuu-chah-Nulth First Nation will stage a celebratory luncheon on Saturday, Aug. 12, at the Paper Mill Dam Park in Port Alberni. Festivities begin at noon.
Those being honoured at the event will include three Tseshaht teenagers who all captured bronze medals at the recent North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) that were primarily held in the Nova Scotia capital of Halifax.
This list includes Jaidin Knighton, a member of the British Columbia girls’ under-16 basketball squad that placed third in its category at the NAIG.
Also, softball teammates Jamie-Leigh Lucas and Hayleigh Watts were on the B.C. girls’ under-16 squad that brought home the bronze in its division from the multi-sport games.
Saturday’s celebration will also include Jolyn Watts, a local runner who won a pair of medals in track events at the Special Olympics World Games, held in Berlin, Germany in June. Jolyn Watts won a gold medal and a bronze medal in her international debut.
Knighton was thrilled her squad returned home with some hardware. Her B.C. team downed Minnesota 75-49 in the battle for third place.
“It was really great,” Knighton said of her NAIG experience. “I’m glad we pulled through in the end.”
Knighton, who is going into Grade 11 at Alberni District Secondary School, was the Team B.C. centre.
“We were going there to win,” Knighton said of her club’s expectations heading into NAIG. “Our goal was to win the gold. But we’re definitely happy we ended up pulling through with the bronze.”
Meanwhile, Lucas and Watts were members of the B.C. girls’ softball under-16 side that ended up with a bronze medal. As it turned out, however, the team never did get to play its bronze-medal game due to severe weather conditions (an abundance of rain).Instead, both participants in the battle for third place, B.C. and Saskatchewan, were awarded bronze medals.
“I thought NAIG was a fun experience and a great opportunity to meet new people,” Lucas said. “I enjoyed playing with and against new people throughout North America.”
Lucas is also thrilled that she will be among athletes being celebrated by her First Nation on Saturday.
“It feels really good for my Tseshaht roots to be recognized and to be celebrated alongside my teammate Hayleigh, who I have been playing ball with for six years,” she said. “I feel really lucky to be celebrating that with Tseshaht. I look forward to it.”
This year’s NAIG featured about 4,800 athletes from across Canada and the United States. They participated in 15 different sports.
“This has a lot of different levels of playing,” Lucas added of her NAIG participation. “I really enjoyed the competition of playing people I’ve never played before.”
These games were originally scheduled to be held in 2020, but were postponed a couple of times because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
NAIG was first held in 1990 in Edmonton. This year marked the 10th time that the games have been held.
The next NAIG is planned for Calgary in 2027. Knighton is disappointed she won’t be able to take part. She’ll be to old to compete in the oldest age grouping, Under-19, by then.
“It’s really disappointing,” she said, adding this year’s NAIG will be her one and only appearance competing at the games.
Tseshaht Chief Councillor Ken Watts said community members are beaming over the NAIG results from its teenage medalists.
“Tseshaht is proud of young athletes representing our nation at the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG),” he said. “We thank their families, caregivers, teammates, coaches and Indigenous Sport, Physical Activity & Recreation Council (I·SPARC) for helping give our youth this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Watts added the young athletes proved to be rather inspirational.
“We have a nation of over 1,200 citizens who are all proud of you as you’ve now inspired other Tseshaht youth in their sports and recreations goals and dreams,” he said.
Watts added he’s hoping the local medalists continue to excel in their athletic pursuits.
“Keep up the good work and we look forward to your continued growth,” he said.
As for Jolyn Watts, she became a world champion when she won the women’s 1,500-metre race in Berlin a couple of months ago.
She also captured a bronze-medal as she was a member of the Canadian women’s 4x400-metre relay team that placed third in its final.
After she returned back home, Watts’ coach Mike Riddalls told Ha-Shilth-Sa that he felt his athlete’s overseas performances would also be inspirational.
“I hope so,” Riddalls had said. “The Special Olympics are all about competition and training and having fun. I do think (Jolyn’s participation in Berlin) will inspire some of our other local athletes to get to the national team.”