“This Is the Indigenous”: Scenes and Insights from the World Indigenous Games

Feb 21st, 2016 | By | Category: Online features, Web Exclusive
By Katrina Montoya



The sound of a drum rang through the open air pavilion of the English-speaking athletes’ village. It was early morning and many of us had not yet adjusted to the time change from our travel. Exhausted from jet-lag and with no real idea of the actual time, I slipped the sheet I had been provided over my head in an attempt to continue sleeping. It was unlike any drum I’d ever heard—metallic and tropical. It took me a few moments to realize it wasn’t an alarm. Through the window of the elementary school room I could see the team from the Philippines strategically walking back and forth between rooms with a gangsa drum announcing breakfast.


Located between four elementary school-turned-hostel rooms in the English-speaking athletes’ village were 24 current and former tribal college and university (TCU) students and staff thousands of miles away from home. We had all gathered for the World’s First Indigenous Games in Palmas, Brazil.


Forming the intertribal, international team was Antonio Bass, Aldean Big Hair Good Luck, Dwight Carlston, Savannah Chavez, Felixia Chischilly, Kenneth Duputee, Jr., Shelley Haupt, Tiana Iron Horse, Tye LaFranier, Temryss Lane, Teri Lea McCormick, Calvin Nomee, E.J. Old Bull, Miranda Sees The Ground, Jolene Spotted Bear, Melton Spotted Bear Jr., Darrin Swank, Dr. Richard Littlebear, Dr. David Yarlott, and myself, Katrina Montoya.


Over 2,000 Indigenous athletes from 30 countries competed over the course of 10 days. For many of us it was the first time we’d met one another, others were accompanied with classmates and TCU staff. Together we would form lifelong memories and friendships not only from within our own nations, but with nations from around the world.

“None of us knew each other and a lot of us came out of our shells,” said Tye LaFranier. “We were able to open up to one another.”

In the arena, the colorful mix of traditional regalia and athletic attire was a sight to see—enough to entice Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff to attend the opening ceremony. “It was something I’ve never experienced,” said Fexlia Chischilly. “It was all the glamour you could think of but with feathers and all the traditional wear.”

The competitions were held in a newly constructed sports complex complete with food vendors, a soccer stadium, a cultural stage, a digital hut with Internet, a sand-filled arena that seated thousands, and a torch that was lit during an impressive opening ceremony. Water sports took place on the Tocantins River.

The Games focused more on traditional activities such as archery, spear toss, canoeing, and even tug of war, with soccer being the only modern sport. Cultural differences were taken into account and for events such as archery and spear toss women were unable to compete and were restricted solely to demonstrations.

Members from the US team competed in archery, canoeing, spear toss, 100 meter dash, 8.4K run and men and women’s tug of war. E.J. Old Bull came away with the bronze medal in the spear toss, while Teri Lea McCormick and Felixia Chischilly took fifth and sixth in the 8.4K run. The men and women’s tug of war teams reached the quarter finals.

“The games can put together people that have the same ideas, the same visions, [but] for other circumstances would never get together. It’s nice to know that someone else in another part of the world thinks the same,” Ana Ilian, one of our Brazilian attaches, said after the opening ceremony. “That’s the point of the Games.”


Find similar:

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.