Shelley McKosato-Haupt
USA Team Turtle Island Women’s Team - Tug of War

Indigenous Celebration at 1 World Indigenous Games 2015

Shelley McKosato-Haupt

In late October, 24 Brazilian tribes and 23 nations from around the world began to gather in the beautiful city of Palmas, Tocantins, Brazil for the 1 World Indigenous Games.

The Games became reality following 30 years of discussions and planning.

Marcos Terena and his brother, Carlos Terena, lead organizers for the Games, led a team of inter-tribal members, world delegation members, federal, city and state employees and hundreds of volunteers to bring together indigenous athletes from across the world to celebrate indigenous games, language, culture and gender with unity, love and respect.

The official celebration began with the lighting of the sacred fire at the Palmas City Square, the second largest man-made space in the world – next to Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. Before the lighting of the traditional sacred fire, the Brazilian tribes showed off their traditional regalia and dances, and other countries showed off their finest cultural dance styles. It was like a massive competition of who could dance the hardest, sing the loudest and dazzle the most with their traditional dress.

A flame from that fire was then taken to the stadium, where it was used to light the torch of the Games. In the Opening Ceremonies, the 24 Brazilian tribes were presented first out of a sea of colors, feathers, beads and smiles from the contestants as the crowd erupted.

Following the presentation of the teams, 20 Brazilian men with torches danced into the stadium. The dancers covered the length of the stadium before forming a circle and lighting the sand at their feet on fire. The men proceeded to dance and chant their way out of the stadium as another group entered; this time with traditional bows and arrows in hand. The men danced their way to the sand fire, lit their arrows and fired them over the giant torch, lighting it and signaling the official start of competition.

The lighting of the torch marked a place in history where indigenous athletes joined together to celebrate their unity of respect for competition.

They all came together to compete and to demonstrate games they’ve been playing for generations.

The competition began October 21, the day after opening ceremonies, where there were log-carrying races, 100-yard dashes, wrestling, archery, javelin throw, canoe races and swimming. The Paresi tribe demonstrated their game of Jikunahati – a type of soccer but hit with their heads. They dove to the ground on their hands with ease to hit a small round rubber ball with their heads. The Mexican athletes demonstrated their game, La Batalla – a type of field hockey game but played with a ball lit on fire.

One evening during the games, the women presented to the world their finest, most elegant traditional clothing. They walked down the catwalk; waving to the loud cheering crowd; some were painted and covered with elegant beads and feathers. Others wore grass skirts. Every woman stood tall and proud.

Local artisans laid out their crafts for all to enjoy. By the second day, many spectators were dressed in feathers, beads, paint and tattoos. Local farmers set up shop and explained to guests what their farms and agricultural system consisted of, and Dr. David Yarlott, President of Little Big Horn College, Crow Agency, Montana set up a tipi in the middle of the local artisans outside the arena where the USA team, dressed in their traditional tribal regalia, gathered around for spectators to talk to and take photos with.

The USA team consisted of nine females and eight males representing the Sac and Fox, Lummi, Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Navajo and Apache Nations.

The eight days of amazing competition brought hundreds of indigenous athletes together to develop new relationships, new friendships, new respect, new love for other cultures, and new interest in indigenous games from all over the world.

The Closing Ceremonies were as compelling as the Opening Ceremonies. The Brazilian men who brought in the torches to start the games danced out onto the stadium ground, this time with unlit torches. They lit their torches with the fire burning on the ground. As they lit their torches, the fire on the ground went out. They danced their way out of the stadium and as they made their exit, the huge magnificent official torch of the Games went out, marking the end of the Games.

The competition was intense, but was not the most important aspect of the Games. As the Terenas said – “The most important thing is not to win, but to celebrate!”

The next World Indigenous Games will take place in 2017 in Canada.


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