In a fitting end to the Saskatchewan First Nation Winter Games, a drum circle performed a victory song as athletes and delegates gathered for the closing ceremonies on Friday.
As guests left the Art Hauser Centre after a bare bones closing ceremony ended, games manager Mel Mercredi let out a sign of relief and concluded that the games ‚Äúwent well.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe skill level is very high,‚ÄĚ he said of the between 3,000 and 3,500 athletes who gathered for the games.
‚ÄúI watched a basketball game that went into sudden death over time in three-and-three basketball, a team scored with one second to go to tie it.
‚ÄúThe atmosphere in the volleyball venue was packed -- the atmosphere was tremendous.
The Prince Albert and area community truly came together to make the games a success, he said, noting that he lost count of volunteers after the last of the 750 volunteer jackets organizers had made were handed out.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs a story of volunteering volleyball at (the) Margo Fournier (Centre),‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúTheir shift is six hours but they stay for 14 hours because they want to stay on their own time. They go above and beyond what we ask them, and we let them if they want to.‚ÄĚ
In addition to a large-scale volunteer effort, Mercredi noted that financial and in-kind sponsorships kept the games well in the black.
With hotels booked solid months in advance of the games, Mercredi thanked St. Mary High School, Muskoday First Nation Community School and Angus Merasty School for allowing students to take temporary residence in their buildings.
Those at Self Help and Recreation Education helped store the bunk beds as well as set them up in the schools.
During dignitaries‚Äô remarks at the closing ceremonies, a notable speech came from Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde.
Like others, Bellegarde congratulated the host communities for making the games a success, but he also capped his remarks off with a view to the future.
‚ÄúWe always say, do things higher, stronger, better because we want to see young men and women ‚Ä¶ not only here at the winter games, but July 20 to 27 at the North American Indigenous Games in Regina, so prepare for that,‚ÄĚ he said.
‚ÄúIn the years forward, we want to see indigenous people at the Olympic teams,‚ÄĚ he added. Although he had more to say, the balance of his remarks were drowned out by heavy applause.
Although Mercredi said that he and many of the volunteers still have some work ahead of them tearing down the winter games, work could wait until Saturday.
Friday‚Äôs all about celebrating the efforts of more than 750 volunteers.
‚ÄúThe games are now officially over, and it‚Äôs time for me to go up there and sit with volunteers and laugh,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúThere are going to be some emotions, but we have to thank them.‚ÄĚ