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Becoming allies for the Indigenous community through sport: Students volunteer with the North American Indigenous Games

Dan-Lee Athill and Sana Najafi sit in front of the #Team88 North American Indigenous Games display, located in the Instructional Centre Vitrines and in partnership with the Doris McCarthy Gallery.

The University of Toronto Scarborough’s Valley, Dan Lang Field and Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre are host venues for the North American Indigenous Games—the largest sporting and cultural gathering of Indigenous people in North America, occurring in Toronto from July 16 to 23.

The Games wouldn’t be possible without the help of more than 2,000 volunteers. U of T Scarborough students are actively involved in these efforts, including volunteers Sana Najafi and Dan-Lee Athill, who say their personal interests and University studies align with the values of the Games.

Najafi is pursuing a Specialist Co-operative Program in International Development Studies and is hoping to secure a Co-op placement with Indigenous communities in Canada. “I thought it would be good to learn more about the different communities in Canada and become an ally,” she says.

The volunteers were required to attend training sessions that educate on Indigenous communities, culture and the issues faced in North America. Najafi believes the Games are an asset to Indigenous development. “Volunteering for the Games helps me to support Indigenous communities and allow them to lead the narrative of what they need in their communities,” says Najafi. “As opposed to development professionals trying to tell Indigenous communities what they need.”

Dan-Lee Athill has spent much of his life involved in sports and currently works with the Canadian Sports Institute. His appreciation for the Games stems from the opportunities they bring to athletes, particularly when considering the lack of Indigenous representation in the Olympic Games. “This is a building block for Indigenous athletes. Sports have brought me to where I am today and I know sports bring so much joy to people, while opening doors to opportunity.” 

For his volunteer work with the Games, Athill has spent the last year-and-a-half planning, creating and maintaining the cross-country course located in U of T Scarborough’s Valley. 

To Athill, the importance of the North American Indigenous Games lies in its legacy. “People will see Team 88 and wonder what it is, then they’ll do some research and learn about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” He believes sports bring people together, and are a catalyst to helping communities learn—and unite—around important issues, something he witnessed first-hand during the Pan Am & Parapan Am Games hosted on campus in 2015. 

“I definitely want to get more involved with things like this. I think it’s a really great initiative and I’m really excited to be a part of it,” says Najafi.


Learn more about the free sporting and cultural events at the Games and see the schedule of events located at U of T Scarborough below:

Monday, July 17: Athletics-Cross Country

Monday, July 17 to Friday, July 21: Badminton

Monday, July 17 to Thursday, July 20: Baseball

Thursday, July 20 and Friday, July 21: Swimming

© University of Toronto Scarborough