First ever Indigenous games day bands together northern Minnesotan students of all abilities and backgrounds

More than 120 students from eight northern Minnesota high schools of all abilities and backgrounds came together Tuesday for the first ever Unified Indigenous Games Invitational at Bemidji High School.

Sherry Holloway is one of the coordinators for the event as well as the coordinator of Adaptive Physical Education at Bemidji State University. She spoke with MPR News host Cathy Wurzer about the Indigenous games the high school students played.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Well, as we speak on this Tuesday afternoon, more than 120 students from eight high schools in northern Minnesota of all abilities and backgrounds are coming together for the first ever Unified Indigenous Games Invitational at Bemidji High School. Sherry Holloway is one of the coordinators of the event. She's also the coordinator of adapted physical education at Bemidji State University. Sherry, welcome to the program.


CATHY WURZER: Tell us what's happening today. What's all the excitement about?

SHERRY HOLLOWAY: Well, this is our first annual Indigenous Games Invitational that we're having at Bemidji High School, and it is a collaboration between Bemidji Public Schools-- which has a Unified program, K through 12-- and Bemidji State University that has an adapted physical education licensure program, and also Dan Ninham, who is a leader in our community and in Minnesota with providing knowledge and teachings of Indigenous games.

CATHY WURZER: When you say the word "Unified," what does that mean exactly?

SHERRY HOLLOWAY: So "Unified" is when people come together of all abilities to participate in some kind of activity. So with this we're doing inclusive physical education where our focus is the Indigenous games, but the students will be coming with partners-- so we call an athlete, a student athlete, and then a Unified partner-- and they'll be coming with their partners to participate in these activities from different schools.

The Unified Special Olympics comes from three pillars. So it comes from inclusive physical education, it comes from a leadership component, and then it also comes from the idea of whole-school so that everyone is included, so that the entire school has knowledge of what's happening with these activities.

CATHY WURZER: And these kids come together, partnered up, right? What are they going to be doing specifically?

SHERRY HOLLOWAY: So that's where my physical education background, and also Dan as a physical education teacher-- and both of us worked in Bemidji schools for a number of years-- and then Dan's expertise and then his mentorship through the Indigenous Games, we will be putting together some stations.

We have eight stations that the students will be moving through. We also have some whole group activities. And these really focus or reflect celebrating and sharing different sport and culture ideas, just kind of reconnecting with Indigenous games which have been around for forever on Turtle Island, right?

CATHY WURZER: And what games are we talking about? What games will the students be playing?

SHERRY HOLLOWAY: So these games really come with names that would kind of tell you what activities would be happening. So for instance, one is called canoe paddle, where the students will be working seated on the floor and doing an imaginary canoe paddle, where they would pull their legs along on the floor and move their arms in the motion of paddling the canoe.

And so along with that we would add some Ojibwe language that goes along with that as a story behind that. So each station will have a story that goes along with it. Some of the activities are individual challenge, some of them are group challenge, some competitive, some non-competitive.

Some of the other stations that will be included-- one is called catch the lizard's tail, where it's a tag game where students will be working to try and take a tail off another student, which will be just a football belt that they would wear with a tail hanging down. And with the story behind that, when the lizard loses his tail, he grows a new tail. And so that's one of the activities.

There's also the mighty rabbit hunter, where we're working with throwing and we're talking about how important it is to be able to feed everyone in your community and be able to be a good hunter. And we're doing different throwing activities-- throwing a smaller ball at a larger ball. So there's just a variety of different physical skills that go along with these stations.

CATHY WURZER: And talk about the life lessons that come from something like this.

SHERRY HOLLOWAY: Wow, there's so many on different levels. One is just getting together throughout northern Minnesota to bring a large group of students together of all abilities and not only being able to feel comfortable participating, but also being a leader and setting a good example for others that might not have the same skills that we have. So that's one of the life skills.

Some of the other is just learning different cultures and hearing different languages, and then also doing that through movement. And movement is something that comes fairly natural to some people, but it can be a difficulty for others. And so there's just a multi-tiered way that we can connect in cooperation and learning and compassion for each other when we're doing these activities.

CATHY WURZER: What a great event. Sherry, thanks for talking to us about it. All best.

SHERRY HOLLOWAY: Thank you. Have a great day.

CATHY WURZER: That is Sherry Holloway, one of the coordinators of the Unified Indigenous Games Invitational happening right now at Bemidji High School. She's also the coordinator of adapted physical education at Bemidji State University.

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