A two-time participant in the North American Indigenous Games, Wikwemikong native Allysha Wassegijig is thrilled to have the opportunity to share some of her experience with others.
Raised primarily in southern Ontario and receiving her swimming training through the Orillia Channel Cats, Wassegijig was recently in Sudbury, assembling roughly half of the Team Ontario swim team that will compete in Regina in July at the 2014 Indigenous Games.
"After I turned 19, the next step for me was to get involved in a leadership role," she explained.
Working as team manager, Wassegijig oversaw the weekend training session at the Jeno Tihanyi Olympic Gold Pool that would bring together Aboriginal athletes from as far north as Kenora and as far south as Montana (an Ontario born native swimmer who has moved with her family, but is allowed to compete with her province of birth).
"What we're doing here today is really just getting to know each other, as people, as athletes, as swimmers," she said.
In fact, with qualifying standard times in place, the reality is that the majority of the team still swim, on a regular basis, with the club team in their area.
"I'm not looking to impose any new training protocols, or looking to change anything about their stroke," said Wassegijig. "They got this far doing what they know how to do."
While some of the athletes who will participate in Saskatchewan comprise "on-reserve residents," the overwhelming majority are not, providing an opportunity for some rather unique interaction at the Games.
Emma Kinsella, 18, was born in Whitehorse, but moved to Toronto shortly after being adopted at a very early age.
"I've been living in Toronto since I was a toddler, so swimming and representing Ontario means the most for me," said the first-year student at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
"I personally did not have a lot of contact with my band," Kinsella said. "I grew up in the city and haven't been on a reserve in a while. Getting together with indigenous people from all over the place, getting to meet them and hear their stories will be a great experience."
St. Charles College chaplain Steve Callaghan can relate. Born of Métis ancestry, Callaghan understands the difficulty facing many in his shoes.
"They often tried to deny their Aboriginal roots because of the stigma that was attached to it," Callaghan explained.
Far more common even just a generation ago, he's pleased that his son, Isaac, a member of the Valley East Waves and one of 22 swimmers on Team Ontario, and many others have moved beyond that.
"It's a reclaiming of your roots, a reaffirmation of where we belong," said Callaghan.
"In this case, it's kind of a cool thing to say that I belong to this group."
Isaac Callaghan is just one of nearly a dozen or so local athletes in a variety of sports who will be in Regina and area from July 20-27, and part of 13 States, 10 provinces and three territories at the Games competing in 15 different sports.