Marlins connect with heritage at Indigenous Games

Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal

GUELPH – There was plenty of learning for the two members of the Guelph Marlin Aquatic Club who participated in last month’s North American Indigenous Games.

For swimmer Kristen Quigley and coach Laura McPhie, it wasn’t so much learning about swimming as it was about learning about their heritage.

“Just meeting a lot of different people that I probably wouldn’t have gotten to meet anywhere else and being with all people that kind of share the same background as you was kind of interesting,” Quigley said. “I don’t live on a reserve, so I don’t typically get to meet other people that are indigenous so it was kind of interesting to see how they grew up, how they found out they were indigenous, how long they’ve know and they’re family history. That was interesting and just to make friends outside of Guelph.”

“It’s connecting with my heritage in one place and also teaching pride to people who may not have connection to their heritage or may have connection,” coach Laura McPhie said. “That’s the beautiful part of this. There are kids who come from reserves and they’ve lived in that space for a long time and there are kids that come from urban centres like I do who haven’t connected to their heritage. You see both get to talk to each other and learn about each other and learn why they get to be proud of who they are from both directions. Often times both sides have a little bit of negative feelings around it and they shouldn’t, obviously.”

Quigley, who’ll be attending Grade 12 at Centennial CVI next month, is Metis while McPhie has family ties to the Pikwàkanagàn tribe in the Ottawa Valley.

“I actually tried to get involved last time around, but they already had two coaches for it,” McPhie said. “This time as soon as they opened up the coaching applications, I applied because I wanted to be involved.”

“Laura was selected as a coach and she found out in the fall that she was going to be coaching,” Quigley said. “When I mentioned to her that I was Metis, she brought it up to me and worked to get me on the team.”

This year’s Games attracted more than 5,000 athletes to compete in 14 sports – archery, track and field, badminton, baseball, basketball, box lacrosse, canoeing and kayaking, golf, rifle shooting, soccer, softball, swimming, volleyball and wrestling.

“There were a couple of other sports that stayed with us so we got to meet all those people and when you’re at closing and opening ceremonies, you get to meet people,” Quigley said. “A lot of people traded clothing at closing ceremonies, so that was kind of a cool way to get to meet people.”

Quigley brought home some clothing from her native province that she got in trades.

“I was born in New Brunswick so I got some Team New Brunswick stuff. I kind of went and scouted out New Brunswick as soon as I saw them.”

“We got to know Team B.C. very well, but we didn’t necessarily get to see a lot of the other Team Ontario teams compete,” McPhie said.

The Ontario team was based at Durham College in Oshawa.

“I’ve never experienced that before where you stay in an athlete’s village setting,” Quigley said. “Opening ceremonies were really cool. There were a lot of cultural activities we got to see. Most of us had never really seen them before and if we had, it was only for our specific tribe so it was kind of cool to see what everyone does to celebrate something like that.”

Toronto was the host for the Games and there were some top performances in swimming at the Pan Am pool in Scarborough. Quigley won nine medals.

“Three of them were gold from our girls’ relays which was really exciting. The other six were individual,” she said. “Our relays were kind of exciting just because it was people I don’t ever train with so it was kind of cool to meet them and talk to them and then do relays with them and win.”

There was also a bit of pressure in the relays as there were teammates that you didn’t want to disappoint. And then there was the entire Team Ontario team for the Games as the medal count in each sport counted in the overall standings, just as they do in the Olympics.

“Every medal was really important,” Quigley said.

The Ontario swimmers did their part in helping the province to the overall Games title. Ontario finished third with 136 medals, trailing B.C. (179) and Saskatchewan (166).

Every province and territory except Quebec was represented as were several U.S. states. The swimmers won 57 of Ontario’s medals.

“The highlight for me was that we had two boys who didn’t swim competitively,” McPhie said. “One swam with his high school team and one had started taking lessons this year and we had 100 per cent of our athletes get medals. For swimming, that was amazing.”

The teams were comprised of swimmers with varying levels of swimming backgrounds. While most learned to swim at their local pools, some learned in nearby rivers as the closest pool was too far away.

All came together as a team at the Games.

“It’s a gorgeous event to be at because you really get to tear away a lot of the stereotypes that even we have just simply because of where we’ve been raised and what we interact with with Canadian culture,” McPhie said.