On the eve of the first North American Indigenous Games, co-organizer Charles Woods sat in his downtown Edmonton office. He was shuffling through the pages of a speech he was to deliver during the next day's opening ceremonies at the University of Alberta Butterdome. It was hard for him to concentrate.
After a few minutes of reviewing the script, his attention waned and he gazed out the window to contemplate the future. Not his own, but the future of what would become one of the most important feats ever for Native sports organizers. It would be the first time aboriginal groups from across North America would come together to stage a major competition and cultural performance.
The next afternoon, he presented the speech to more than 1,000 spectators who showed up to listen and provide support.
Eight days later, the 1990 games because a piece of Native history. Indeed, it has developed into what its creators had envisioned, despite the funding and organizational problems that they managed to overcome.
For Woods, it was the start of a contemporary tradition that would bring the profile of Native athletes to new heights and give the younger generation something more solid to shoot for.
"We've got the support we need to make this work in Alberta," says Woods, who was recently appointed the Saddle Lake Indian band recreation counsellor for his role in staging the premiere games.
"The idea was to bring athletes together to compete on common ground. We have done that."
The next games, scheduled for Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, will see the best Native athletes Alberta has to offer, Woods boasts, explaining that band leaders and Metis organizers have co-operated in putting together what will become Team Alberta.
"The kids have worked hard for this. They want it and so do the communities," he says.
Regional sports groups have been formed and it is from those ranks that top athletes will emerge.
A regional recreation association has been established in northern Alberta, consisting of seven reserves and Metis communities.
"Saskatchewan is doing such an excellent job of preparing for the games. It is a way for us to carry on the tradition."
But even Woods, once the games' most ardent supporter, wasn't certain the event would survive its first test. Funding problems and lack of organization proved nearly fatal to the indigenous games society. But Woods says that the games committee, now controlled under the auspices of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, has already secured the funding and volunteer force it needs.
"We're back into it."
Harold Burden, president of the First Nations Sports Council in Edmonton, returned recently from a three-day workshop in Prince Albert which was held to acquaint groups with the sports venues.
"The facilities are first-class. They have complex co-operation from the city and it's well organized.
"Now we have to get ourselves ready in Alberta."