For Kendrick Cardinal, seeing the Indigenous games like Dene games and Arctic sports in the 2023 Arctic Winter Games in his region meant a lot.

“As a council in this region, we are tremendously proud to support these games,” said Cardinal, councillor for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. “After almost a year’s delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and because of the hard work of so many people and partners involved here, it is our time to shine in 2023.”

He was speaking at an opening press conference for the games Sunday, Jan. 29. Most teams arrived Jan. 28, with a few preliminary games held before the opening ceremonies that evening.

John Rodda, president of the Arctic Winter Games international committee, called it a special occasion and thanked everybody who “held the line” on bringing the Games back to life.

The opening ceremonies were held on a chilly -17 C Sunday night, with family and supporters packing the stands at Legacy Dodge Field, as hundreds of athletes and numerous officials and volunteers made their way down to the quasi-mosh pit in front of the stage to great applause.

A dog sled team piloted by Indigenous Elder and Olympian Brooke Voigt brought the Games’ torch to the cauldron, which was lit and the Games were officially declared open.

“These folks rode that rollercoaster with us,” remarked Melissa Blake, chair of the board for the host society for the event, referring to the supporters and sponsors who helped make the 2023 Games a reality in Fort McMurray.

“It’s a Games that I think was built to remember. It is for our community, the first big event that we’ve had in a long, long time.”

The Halluci Nation highlighted the musical performances, with DJ Qpid acting as host of the evening, along with Miranda Beaton and Holly Fortier.

A theme song was even written and performed at the opening ceremonies. Several local artists contributed to it, including producer Zion Afuang and drummer Darren Mercredi. The song ends with the slogan of the Games: “It’s our time to shine.”

A laser show and fireworks ended the evening, as athletes headed back to their village in buses, preparing for the start of competitive events on Monday, Jan. 30.

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