About 1,200 teenagers are converging in Milwaukee for the inaugural U.S. Indigenous Games.
The opening ceremonies for the games will be held on Sunday. Competition is 16 sports will then be staged the following four days, July 11-14. Participants, ranging in age from 13-19, will be representing 14 states.
Milwaukee had originally been scheduled to host this year’s North American Indigenous Games (NAIG). But last May the host society withdrew its bid to host these 10-day games, which are usually held every three years and feature athletes from the U.S. and Canada.
Since another host could not be found in time, this year’s NAIG was cancelled last summer.
The last NAIG was held in 2008 in British Columbia. And now the next NAIG is set for 2014 in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Shortly after pulling out as the NAIG host, Milwaukee officials announced they wanted to stage a scaled-down version in 2011 and simply call it the U.S. Indigenous Games.
The Games are being hosted by 11 tribes located throughout the state of Wisconsin.
Some uncertainties surrounded these games in the past year. For example, a Games’ website was not updated frequently and messages sent to the lone email address listed would bounce back.
“We had to go through the process of assuring people we were still having these games,” said Art Skenandore, the Games’ executive director. Skenandore’s cell number was the only one listed on the Games’ website.
But he said Games’ organizers were using Facebook to connect with those interested in more information about this year’s competition.
“It’s the most interactive social media network,” he said. “We were using that to get to our athletes and coaches.”
Skenandore added organizers had originally hoped for a considerably larger amount of registered athletes.
“We were hoping to get in the range of 3,000-4,000,” he said. “We know the athletes are out there. It’s a matter of organizing properly.”
Skenandore added that organizers are confident they will be able to at least double the number of participating athletes for the next U.S. Indigenous Games, scheduled for 2013, also in Milwaukee.
Skenandore also said officials are hoping to stage these games, roughly every two years. But that will have to be altered sometimes to avoid being held the same year that the NAIG are taking place.
“We hope to be able to complement the (NAIG),” he said.
Though the plan is to have Milwaukee host the first two U.S. Indigenous Games, Skenadore said the multi-sport competition would be moved around to various locations around the country after that.
The host Team Wisconsin will be represented by about 200 competitors at this year’s Games. Skenadore said basketball will have the most participants of any sport. Other popular sports being contested this year include baseball, softball and wrestling.
Though there will not be as many athletes as had been originally projected, Skenandore said the Games’ will not translate into a financial disaster.
“We have a $5.8 million budget,” he said. “And we’ll break even for sure.”
Sunday’s opening ceremonies will be held at the Wisconsin State Fair Park. The Games will also include a cultural village. Daily activities will feature performances from Native singers and dancers.
For more information, check out the website here.