Volleyball players from First Nations across northwestern Ontario are in Kingfisher Lake First Nation for a high-stakes tournament.
Twenty eight teams, with players between ages 13 and 47, are competing for the $25,000 first prize in games at the local gym. The five-day tournament has been running all week, with games from 9:30 a.m. to midnight.
“We’re coming together, the kids come together, we all come together as a nation to create friendships and show their skills on the court,” explained Priscilla King, who’s one of the event organizers with her husband Chris.
People in Kingfisher Lake have welcomed 21 teams from outside the community. Visitors are staying with local families, getting rides to and from games, and the community hall is acting as a kitchen for meals, King said.
“We accommodate them, we provide meals, we provide transportation,” she said. “The community members, even the elders are really supporting the event. You see the elders all throughout the day in the gym. There’s even a section in the gym, where it’s just the elders.”
Volleyball is a big deal at First Nations in northern Ontario. Earlier this summer, the Treaty 3 Titans won nine medals, including four gold and a silver, at the Ontario Summer Indigenous Games in Ottawa.
That showing prompted interest from college scouts in southern Ontario, and there were plans for some to come to Kingfisher Lake, though they couldn’t arrange travel in time, King said.
The tournament even drew in MPP Sol Mamakwa, who’s from Kingfisher Lake, and leaders from the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, who took on local leaders from Kingfisher lake in a three-game series Thursday afternoon.
Danno Moose is playing with the Cobras, one of two teams from the Poplar Hill First Nation, which was 5-1 heading into the start of the playoffs on Friday. He’s known as Superman because of the T-shirts he wears at the games.
“We have a good team — we’ve been together since 2016,” he said. “It’s our first time in Kingfisher, it’s a good community.”
Despite their previous success, Moose said it’s too soon to say what their chances for landing the $25,000 in prize money.
“We played in Webequie [First Nation] last year and won there. We played in another tournament two years ago and won there too, [but] there’s a lot of good teams around here,” Moose said.
He noted the top talent in Kingfisher Lake, and said he’s impressed with some of the young players he’s competing against. The youth team from Poplar Hill was undefeated in their division heading into the playoffs.
“It’s a great place to have some fun games,” Moose said. “It’s been a great trip.”
The tournament runs until Saturday (Aug. 27).