by Kayla Sawyer. This article originally appeared on the NICOA blog.
The National Senior Games Association (NSGA) came to Albuquerque from June 14-25, attracting a record number of 13,712 athletes from 50 states (plus an estimated 15,000 family members and friends), and setting more than 202 new records. This was the first year the Games were held in New Mexico, and it was the largest in National Senior Games 32-year history.
June 17 was a particularly special day of the Games — set aside to honor American Indian and Alaska Native elder athletes. With many details and logistical components, the event required a lot of planning and committees, both national and local. NICOA reached out to NSGA and began planning early. Our partners at the Albuquerque Area Southwest Tribal Epidemiology Center (AASTEC) joined as well.
Elements that we felt were important to include were: an honor guard, wise words from a respected leader, traditional cultural practices such as tribal dances, cooking and food sovereignty, a national broadcast with Native America Calling, education on fall prevention and warming up safely and digital stories showcasing why physical activity has been a key part of survival and resilience for Native peoples.
More than 100 Native elders registered for the biennial games — a number that contributes to the event’s record-breaking year. Many athletes stopped by the NICOA exhibit booth for information about health and social services.
Native America Calling, hosted by Tara Gatewood, scheduled a live call-in radio panel featuring NSGA CEO Marc Riker, NICOA Executive Director Larry Curley, and 73-year-old cyclist Simeon Gipson, from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, who is Cherokee and Choctaw. Gatewood is a member of the Navajo Nation from Isleta Pueblo. She hosted the show from the National Senior Games and spoke with several organizers and attendees.
The panel discussed having the Games in Albuquerque as well as American Indian health and athlete participation. Discourse centered on the challenges facing tribal communities as they work to increase participation in athletics — particularly in older adults. The live airing of the Native America Calling public radio program was produced through NSGA’s partnership with NICOA and can be viewed below.
More than 5,500 New Mexicans volunteered to fill 8,000 roles over the course of the Games. NICOA would like to thank everyone for a wonderful Indian Day.
Many people helped to make NICOA’s Indian Day celebration a success. Andrew Walker (National Senior Games Association, Health and Wellness Director) supported the concept and was crucial to integrating NICOA into the planning process. Sixtus Dominguez (Rarámuri/Apache, AASTEC Tribal Injury Prevention Program Coordinator, Albuquerque Area Indian Health Board) was a cheerful, thoughtful partner as we focused on how to make a meaningful, entertaining program. Rita Jojola (Isleta Pueblo Senior Center Director) provided many helpful suggestions and support. Ceci Acosta (New Mexico Senior Games Executive Director) had great ideas, provided names of Native athletes for interviews and generously shared t-shirts, pins and treats. Brenda Manuelito (Diné) and Carmella Rodriguez of nDigiDreams created moving digital stories that will educate others about Native peoples and how they view the world. Larry Curley (Navajo, National Indian Council on Aging Executive Director) was the guiding force behind making the day a reality.
For more photos from the day, check out the NICOA blog.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.