Team Wisconsin Brings Home 56 Medals from the 2023 North American Indigenous Games

By Ardith Van Riper

     The 2023 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) was held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, July 15-23, and gathered more than 5,000 athletes, coaches, and team staff from approximately 756 Indigenous Nations.  Team Wisconsin returned home with 21 gold medals, 18 silver medals, and 17 bronze medals.

     The NAIG hosted competition in 16 sports, 3D archery, athletics, badminton, baseball, basketball, beach volleyball, canoe, kayak, golf, box lacrosse, rifle shooting, soccer, softball, swimming, volleyball, and wrestling.

     Team Wisconsin’s athletes hailed from Bad River, Bay Mills (Ojibwe), Chippewa, Forrest County Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk Nation, Isaniti Dakota, Lad du Flambeau, Menominee, Oneida, Potawatomi, Red Cliff, Red Lake, Sioux, Stockbridge, Three Affiliated Tribes, and Winnebago.

     Some of the Ho-Chunk Nation athletes and coaches shared their experiences.

     Wilbur Blackdeer, the silver medal 19U 3D archery winner, expressed, “I had a really fun experience and met a lot of new people.  I’d like to thank my dad Greg Blackdeer and Perry Carrimon, for setting up ranges for me and allowing me to shoot my bow and teaching me how to shoot.  Also, thank you to everyone who supported me.  Last, but not least, thank you to my coach Georgianna LaMere for going to Canada and making it a nice and smooth experience.”

     Alex Stacy said, “My name is Hunchinuk and I am a 14 year old golfer.  I competed on Team Wisconsin for 16U girls’ golf, (I am) one of the youngest competitors on our team.   NAIG was an amazing experience and we should bring back trading with each other.  At the games we traded team items such as hats, outfits, and pins and met many new friends.   I want to thank my coaches Arielle and Justin for the many positive experiences, growth and encouragement they gave me throughout the games.  Thank you to the Ho-Chunk Nation and the fundraisers for making this possible for me.”

     Valin Ramberg, 16U basketball male team, expressed, “Indigenous Games was a wonderful experience, the team chemistry and overall teamwork throughout the games made this trip memorable.  I would just like to thank my teammates and new friends, along with the Coaches Leland Bird and Bryce Funmaker for pushing us to win the gold medal.  Also to everyone that supported our trip, I would like to say Thank you!” 

     Jaeleigh Blackdeer, 16U volleyball female team, mentioned, “Thank you to my parents, coaches, chaperones and managers for the support. I am very grateful to the Ho-Chunk Nation for sponsoring this event.

     “I had an unforgettable experience while playing at NAIG. I met a lot of great people and made amazing memories. I had such a great time while in Canada. I encourage every athlete to try out and play their sport. Anything can happen.”

     Coach Ryan Crain for the 14U Basketball Female team, who took home the silver medal, said, “These young ladies were able to show perseverance in the face of adversity. They did an amazing job representing Bad River, Menominee, Oneida, Ho-Chunk, and all of Wisconsin. They were one of the shortest and smallest teams in the field, but they didn’t use it as an excuse. There were many bumps and bruises, but they never let it slow them down. In the semifinal game they were down by 8 in the fourth quarter but never gave up and forced overtime. Then they were down by 7 with 2 minutes left in overtime and came back to win by 10. They earned the silver medal by never giving up. Every indigenous community should be proud of these young ladies. They are smart, funny, hardworking, and have the brightest of futures. Remember these names because they will be future leaders in our communities, Olivia Pyawasay, Haley Heath, Dacey Webster, Adrian Beaulieu-Morgan, Kalista Blackowl, Enique Blackowl, Harmonystar Walker, and Kendra Bigboy-Piehl.”

     Donovan Vigue explained, “I am currently 18 years old. I have been actively competing in the sport of wrestling since the age of 6.  I live in Bonduel Wisconsin where I competed at the varsity level, and what inspired me to compete in this was being knocked down again with another knee surgery and wanting to bounce back again even better.  It was an amazing experience and meant more than words can explain. Thank you!”

     Coach Leland Bird for the 16U basketball male team, who won the gold medal, shared, “The boys set a goal a year ago and they achieved it.  They worked hard and played great as team. We are proud of them all.”

     Lilliani Big Eagle, the setter for 16U volleyball female team, said, “My Lakota name is Tata?ka Ska Wi?.

     “I have been playing Volleyball since 9 years old. I started playing my first two years with "One Wisconsin" Volleyball club in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The years after that I have been playing with "FC Elite" Volleyball Club in Menasha, Wisconsin ever since.

     “I was inspired to try out for Team Wisconsin after hearing my mother’s stories about her experience playing Volleyball in the Indigenous Games when she was younger. I missed the first tryouts for Team Wisconsin because I was hesitant in thinking I wouldn't make the team, but after talking with my parents I felt confident and comfortable enough to tryout in making the team.

     “Being in Halifax, Nova Scotia meeting other tribes was very overwhelming in a good way. I had so much fun on and off the court with other athletes from other tribes. I loved representing my nations and felt very blessed in winning the gold with my teammates and my two amazing Coaches.

     “Every game was fun and competitive, especially the finals match against Manitoba.

     “I love playing Volleyball, it's an amazing sport. I love hitting and setting the ball every day.  Growing up, that's all I have ever been around watching my mother and all my aunties always playing volleyball. I don't know where I would be if I wasn't playing the game.

     “Wainiginap šana wi,

     “Wopila Ta?ka,

     “Thank you!”

     The 2027 Games will be hosted by Calgary, Alberta!