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Nation gears up for hosting duties


By Sam Laskaris Windspeaker Contributor HAGERSVILLE, Ont.







Chief Bryan LaForme has a busy schedule these days. And
LaForme, the Chief of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, will continue to have his share of additional duties for the next couple of months.

That’s because his First Nation has been designated as host First Nation for both the Pan American Games and the Parapan American Games, which will be held in Toronto and surrounding communities this summer.

For starters, the Pan American Games will run from July 10 to July 26. More than 6,000 athletes from 41 countries will participate in these Games. They’ll be taking part in 36 sports.

The Parapan American Games, featuring athletes with a disability, will follow in August. These Games, which run from Aug. 7 to Aug. 15, will attract more than 1,500 athletes in 15 sports.

The Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation was named the host First Nation for this year’s Games in May 2014. Officials from the First Nation and from the organizing committee of the Toronto 2015 Pan American/Parapan American Games were involved in the signing of the hosting agreement.

LaForme said the hosting gig is indeed a significant deal. And it’s also a historical.

“This is the first time in Pan American Games’ history they’ve had a First Nation acting as hosts,” he said.

The Pan American Games, first held in Bueno Aires, Argentina in 1951, are staged every four years. These Games take place one year before the Summer Olympics.

LaForme said reaching the hosting agreement was not an easy process as some Games’ officials simply could not understand claims that events would be staged on Indigenous land.
“It took some time,” he said. “There was a lack of education and knowledge on their part.”

But it’s not as if Games’ officials are the only one who are unaware of LaForme’s First Nation.

“Right now if you ask most people who the Mississaugans are they think you’re talking about the city,” he said. “It’s an education process we’re doing.”

And it’s been a rather lengthy ongoing process.

“We’ve been doing this for 20-plus years,” LaForme said. “Sometimes it seems like you’re making progress and it is building up momentum.”

LaForme said at times it seems like any progress made takes a step back when different governments come into power or when new immigrants come into the country and they are unaware of the history of the land.

LaForme is content with the amount of involvement his First Nation has leading up to the Games. This includes the late May trip he took to Mexico. He was part of the Canadian contingent that travelled to Mexico, hosts of the 2011 Games to accept the torch.

“We were invited and we gladly accepted the opportunity to go and do that,” LaForme said.

On May 30, LaForme was in Toronto to participate in a torch lighting ceremony, which kicked off the torch relay.

“We’re making a substantial impact with some of the things we are involved with,” he said.

LaForme is also anxiously anticipating the Games’ opening ceremonies, scheduled for July 10. This event will be held at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, which will be called the Pan Am Ceremonies Venue throughout the Games.

“Once the Games start and people see how much we are involved with in the opening ceremonies, hopefully that will come through that this is First Nation land,” he said. “But not everybody will get it. And not everybody will understand it.”

LaForme said even prior to the Games, there will be yet another opportunity to educate people.

“Quite often there are misunderstandings of how First Nation people live,” he said.

To this end, the general public is invited to a powwow that will be staged on June 21, National Aboriginal Day, at Toronto’s Fort York National Historic Site. Besides watching some Native dancing and listening to music, those in attendance will be able to enjoy some Native food as well.

In recent years the powwow, which had been staged in the Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation, had attracted between 5,000 and 6,000 people.

“With Toronto being the size it is and the fact it’s open to the public, we might have a lot more people this year,” LaForme said. “It’s being advertised everywhere you can think of. Our people are looking forward to it.”