It’s a full house in Saskatoon this week for the Tony Cote First Nations Winter Games.

Drum songs and a smoke machine were part of Monday night’s opening ceremonies at the Circle Drive Alliance Church, with thousands of young Indigenous athletes crowding into the centre. They bore flags, banners, clappers, and used their voices to usher in each territory’s teams from all over the province.

Norris Paskwa is a former athlete at the games and current coach for File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council Atom and Peewee female hockey team. She said she’s passing on a love of athletics to her kids who are playing this year.

“It’s a family tradition I guess you could say,” Pasqua said. “It brings us together I guess. We work at the tribal council, my husband and I as well, so we’re a big part of it, just bringing our communities together and being proud of our nation.”

Carlton Bear is chief of Shoal Lake Cree Nation, which is one of the three host First Nations along with Shoal Lake and Cumberland House.

“It’s incredible to see a lot of athletes enjoying themselves, getting prepared,” Bear said.

(PHOTO: Teams from all over the province attended the opening ceremonies. Photo by Chelsea Laskowski.)

Dignitaries like Saskatoon’s mayor and police chief were among those to welcome the athletes to Saskatoon. Honour songs and a drum song to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women were played.

Spectators will be able to watch the young people play badminton, basketball, broomball, hockey, volleyball, table tennis, and curling throughout the week. Competition started on Sunday.

The games close on Friday, and this is the first year the Saskatchewan games have bore the name of their founder Tony Cote after being renamed this summer.

(TOP PHOTO: Norris Paskwa-Creeley, left, calls the winter games a ‘family tradition.’ Photo by Chelsea Laskowski.)