From July 16 – 23, Toronto, Ontario will see an influx of Indigenous peoples from across North America. Toronto will play host to the 2017 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG), the largest Indigenous sport and cultural gathering in North America.
For Miisheen-Meegwun Shawanda, the 2017 NAIG will be his second opportunity to don the Aboriginal Team Ontario colours. From Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Shawanda first competed in the NAIG in 2014 in Regina, Saskatchewan in the sport of canoeing. This year, he’ll be swapping out his canoe and paddle for a singlet and mat, in pursuit of a podium finish in wrestling.
“Last time I competed, I was in the U16 canoeing. I could have wrestled but I wasn’t confident in my wrestling, so I competed in canoeing. I have a strong background in canoeing,” he says, wearing his Algoma University sweatshirt proudly.
The Crane clan Anishinaabe has been canoeing since his earliest days. With his parents owning and operating the successful Great Lakes Cultural Camp, a love for water sports and being outdoors in nature was instilled early on.
His interest in wrestling came much later. When he was seven, Shawanda began practicing martial arts. At the age of 13, he transitioned to jiu-jitsu, which follows many of the techniques of wrestling, coupled with chokes and holds. But it wasn’t until his Grade 9 year at White Pines Collegiate and Vocational School that he finally took to the mats, learning freestyle wrestling.
“Once high school came around, I wanted to take part in school sports… a lot of my coaches persuaded me to play wrestling and they told me it was very similar to jiu-jitsu. So I’ve been doing that for four years now.”
Wrestling came easy and quickly for Shawanda, who earned a gold medal at the City Championship in Grade 9. In his second year with the sport, he earned another gold at the city level, and picked up a gold at the Northern Ontario Secondary School Athletics (NOSSA). He also competed at the esteemed Mat Man tournament in Toronto. He competed again at NOSSA in Grade 11, as well as at the Ontario Federation of School Athletics (OFSSA). Due to family crises in his senior year, he didn’t actively compete in tournaments.
Throughout his progression in the sport, Shawanda has worked closely with Algoma Thunderbirds wrestling Head Coach Trevor Manchester. “He’s always been helping out and encouraging and nurturing me along the way. I’ve worked with him since Grade 9 at both the high school level and with the Algoma Wrestling Club.”
He also practiced with the Algoma Thunderbirds wrestling team throughout his high school days. His older brother, Noodin, fields a position on the squad. Thus, such ties to the athletics program, coupled with the University’s Anishinaabemowin (Ojibway) program, were the reason Shawanda decided to earn his post-secondary degree in his hometown.
Shawanda will be going into his first year of studies this fall. He has been speaking his native tongue of Ojibway since his earliest days in his home. At the high school level, Shawanda was able to take Ojibway courses from Grade 9 through 11. At Algoma, he’ll be able to take his learning even further. “I always loved speaking the language and hearing my aunts, uncles, and elders speak it. I wanted to keep that component of my culture alive. Algoma is the only [university] to offer Anishinaabemowin as a degree so that’s why I chose to study here.”
Upon graduating, Shawanda is hoping to work in the educational sector. He is hoping to found a kindergarten to Grade 12 school that specializes in teaching the Ojibway language within the Great Lakes region.
Shawanda will be competing in the 76-kilogram weight class on Tuesday, July 18th and Wednesday, July 19th. The action will be streamed live on the CBC Sports.
In order to qualify for the NAIG, Shawanda had to compete in a tournament in Sault Ste. Marie and then had to wrestle against two other NAIG hopefuls to cement his spot on the team.
In order to meet his weight requirements, Shawanda has had to lose upwards of 15 pounds and maintain a strict exercise regimen and diet which consists of consuming over seven litres of water a day.
Competing alongside Shawanda in wrestling is his youngest brother, Naakwaam.
Algoma University is a proud sponsor of 2017 NAIG.
Source: Algoma University Thunderbirds