Saturday, March 19, 2016

Return of the AWG Team

The Arctic Winter Games (AWG) were jointly held in Iqaluit, Canada, and Nuuk, Greenland from March 6 to 11.  Iqaluit hosted the (ice) hockey matches because there are no hockey arenas in Greenland.  (I know.  I was surprised to hear that fact.)  The competing hockey teams stayed at Inuksuk High School.  (I began my Nunavut teaching career at the high school in 2012).  Arctic Bay sent a team of athletes, coaches, and volunteers. 
The AWG is "an international biennial celebration of circumpolar sports and culture" that began in 1969.  The slogan for this year's games was "Join - Feel - Jump".  The nine participating teams were: Alaska, Yukon, Alberta North, Greenland, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Nunavik Quebec, Sapmi, and Yamal.  All nine teams totaled 2000+ athletes.  The games this year featured 15 events, including: alpine skiing, badminton, Dene Games, futsal, snowboarding, and wrestling.
Everyone in Arctic Bay was excited about the AWG because they are the "Olympics of the North" and our community was being represented on the Nunavut team.  Jean-Francois (JF), the high school math & science teacher, kept everyone updated on the games by creating a big display in the high school hallway.
"We had several participants and volunteers involved in the games," he explained.  "I thought it would interest our students to see a big display on the Nunavut Team, and especially on our representative from Arctic Bay.  I wanted the display to showcase pictures, results, and the ulu (medal) count of Team Nunavut.  Judging by the number of people who stopped by the display, I would say it was a great success!"
When the games came to an end on March 11, Team Nunavut had won 6 gold medals, 18 silver medals, and 25 bronze medals.  Seven of those medals were won by athletes from Arctic Bay.  (Alaska accumulated the most medals: 83 gold, 67 silver, and 66 bronze.)  A welcome back celebration for the Arctic Bay participants was planned for Saturday, March 12, the same day they would be flying back to the community.  (You can read about what took place two years ago here). 
JF hard at work on the cake.
JF's cake tools.
I arrived at the community hall several minutes before 5:30pm.  I was expecting the place to be packed with people but instead the building was quiet.  A semicircle of chairs and two loud speakers sat in front of the stage.  A Team Nunavut banner made by the high school students was hung at the back of the hall.  JF was there working on the cake he was asked to make.  All his icing tools were spread out on a table.  After making my presence known, he explained that the ceremony had been postponed by an hour because the flight from Iqaluit left an hour late.  He also mentioned that the plane would be landing at 6pm and several people had gone to the airport to wait for the plane's arrival.  I took several pictures of JF crafting his cake masterpiece before hopping on my skidoo and driving all the way to the airport.
The drive was exciting and bumpy.  There were quite a lot of snow drifts all over the frozen ice.  I drove past the iceberg and drove around the runway before pulling into the airport parking lot.  A small crowd was already waiting inside the terminal.  There were family members, friends, and "taxi" drivers, all anxiously waiting for the arrival of the team.  I passed the time taking pictures of the crowd and talking to several community members.
The plane has landed!
The Arctic Bay athletes are greeted by family, friends, and fans.
Curtis Willie proudly displays
his medals.
Everyone rushed to the windows to see the First Air turboprop taxi to the terminal.  The plane stopped in front of the building and the propellers stopped spinning.  A line of figures emerged from the back of the plane and began walking towards us.  The people in front of me began waving at the figures as they neared the building.  When the athletes entered the terminal, the people were cheering, clapping, and whistling.  Handshakes, hugs, and photographs followed.   I spoke to several of the athletes about their experiences and congratulated the ones who won medals.  The ones who won medals proudly wore them around their necks.  The medals were in the shape of ulus. 
The athletes went outside and collected their luggage.  They were driven to the community hall in trucks and SUVs.  I returned to the hall the same way I came on my skidoo.  A much larger crowd had assembled inside the building.

The AWG Team sat on the chairs that had been arranged for them in front of the stage.  Many people, including me, walked up and photographed the smiling athletes and volunteers.  The ceremony began at 6:30pm.
Sheena Qaunuk begins the ceremony.
Moses Oyukuluk congratulates the AWG team.
The emcee and organizer of the ceremony was Sheena Qaunuk.  Her daughter participated in the games as a volunteer.  She began the ceremony with a congratulatory speech and how proud she was of the Arctic Bay contingent.  Several other community members made similar speeches before the Hamlet Office awarded the athletes and volunteers with iTunes gift cards. 
The Arctic Bay athletes put on a short demonstration for the audience by playing a Dene Hand Game.  "The Hand Game is based on a simple concept of hiding and guessing objects using elaborate hand signals and gestures to both find the object and the hide the object."  In Dene culture, the Hand Game was traditionally used as a form of gambling.  Two large blue mats were placed on the floor and the athletes formed two teams of four.  They knelt on the mats and faced each other.  They would use their jackets to hide the objects.  (I think they used coins as objects).  I walked onto the stage to film the demonstration.
A drummer began the game by beating on his Inuit drum.  The athletes moved to the rhythm of the drum, in a dance-like fashion, and began using various hand signals.  Since this was my first time watching a Hand Game being played, I had no idea what was happening or who was winning.  I just watched and recorded the whole game with my camera.  Everyone watched in silence; only the sound of the drum was heard.  The game lasted four minutes.  The athletes shook hands while the audience applauded.
2016 Arctic Bay AWG Team.
I could see from the athletes' faces that they were quite tired from the games and the travelling.  Thankfully, they only had one more job to do: pose with the large cake that JF had prepared.  They stood behind JF's masterpiece and smiled as many photographs were taken.  They quickly dispersed after the last photo was taken.  I think they just wanted to retire for the night and sleep. 

JF cut the cake as a long line of children formed in front of him.  He cut the cake into enough pieces to feed everyone.  It was quite tasty.  Thank you JF.

Congratulations to the Nunavut Team for winning many medals at the 2016 Arctic Winter Games!        


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