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Nearly 250 tribal athletes will be representing Team Wisconsin at this year’s North American Indigenous Games

Katie Thoresen

A crowd gathered in the Forest County Potawatomi Community Center cheers as each athlete is announced.

The young tribal members, ranging in age from 13 to 19, will be competing at this year’s North American Indigenous Games.

The tribe gave them a big send-off Wednesday afternoon complete with a color guard, drum circle, prayer, and words of encouragement from Forest County Potawatomi Community Chairman James Crawford.

“No matter what you do from this point on, no matter what you do in the games, you guys are a success,” said Crawford.

The 12 athletes from Forest County Potawatomi will join around 250 athletes from the 11 Tribes in Wisconsin to make up Team Wisconsin.

Brian Tupper says they’re the largest team from the U.S. headed to the Indigenous Games. Tupper is the Chef de Mission for the state.

“We typically finish in the top five,” he said “We currently are the team trophy holder wrestling. We won it in 2017.”

This will be Team Wisconsin’s 7th appearance at the games.

The athletes from Wisconsin’s Tribes will be competing in basketball, volleyball, softball, baseball, golf, archery, swimming, and wrestling.

Katie Thoresen
Omar Bailey high fives people after a sendoff ceremony at the Forest County Potawatomi Community Center.

Omar Bailey, 17, from Crandon will be competing in track and field.

“100 2x4 relay, 400, and long jump,” he said listing off his events.

Bailey made the team for the last games, but those were canceled due to COVID.

He says he loves the adrenaline rush he gets from competing and is looking forward to the games.

“I think it’s really important because you get to show off your talent and actually represent your tribe against other tribes,” said Bailey.

As much as he loved the sport, he had a very different answer when asked what he’s most looking forward to.

“It’s not track actually. It’s actually the syrup. I hear that Canada’s syrup’s really good,” said Bailey.

Isabel Young, 16, from Milwaukee can’t wait to play volleyball with her 14-year-old sister, Lucy.

They’ve been practicing with their newly formed team in the last few months leading up to the games.

“I think we have a good bond with just the time we’ve had,” Young said.

Young is also looking forward to the cultural aspects of the games.

“I just wanted to have the chance to participate in something. Just something so amazing to get involved with the culture and get involved with it with the sport,” she said.

It’s something Young’s mother Kyla says she and her siblings don’t always get a lot of.

“It’s so exciting for them to be able to be a part of this community. They live almost four hours away. They don’t have many opportunities to feel connected like this,” said Kyla.

The games are being held in Nova Scotia, home to the Mi’kmaq people.

The cultural village set up at the games will focus on their values, customs, and traditions.

While Tupper is hoping the athletes do well in their competitions, he says it’s getting to meet people from other Tribes across the U.S. and Canada that make the games special.

“The kids get to interact with other types of cultures and get to make new friends. That’s just as huge a competition in itself, just getting them there and competing is one thing, but just seeing other people’s culture and meeting new people is probably just as important,” said Tupper.

After the ceremony in the gym, the athletes get on a bus.

They tour around the Potawatomi Campus where community and tribal members cheer them on a final time before they leave for the games.

It’s a reminder of the support they’re taking with them and the people they’ll be representing.

“You’re going to see athletes from everywhere, teams from everywhere, and there you are. You’re representing your people, us as Potawatomi. You’ll also be representing Team Wisconsin, your state. And you’re representing the country you live in, the United States,” said Chairman Crawford.

The North American Indigenous Games start July 15 and last 10 days.

The opening and closing ceremonies and most of the sporting events will be live-streamed.

You can view a schedule of events here.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.