What would you do if you could accomplish a dream you’ve had since you were six years old? What would it even be? Would you have flown to the moon? Joined the circus? Become an international spy? Competed in your favorite sport on a national scale?
Reuben Gibbs, an 18-year-old Hinckley-Finlayson student, had the chance to fulfill a desire he’s had since he was about six or seven: He got to compete in the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) as part of the Minnesota basketball team. What does he think of the experience? Well, in his words, it “exceeded the expectations.”
The Games, which were held in Toronto, Canada this year from July 17 to 21, hosted “more than 5,000 participants” competing in 14 different sports, ranging from volleyball and baseball to 3-D archery and rifle shooting. According to the website, Indigenous youth have not only “an opportunity to showcase their athletic abilities,” but also the chance “to celebrate their heritage through numerous cultural events.”
This multi-day competition spans back to 1990, when the Games were held in Edmonton, Alberta. Since that time, they have been held in as little as two years between Games to as many as six years — though the NAIG council “would ideally like to see them be held every three years,” according to the website.
Reuben first remembers having an interest in participating in the NAIG when his aunt was a coach for the Games in the mid-2000s. He went with her and saw the Games for himself. “That’s when I wanted to play in it,” Reuben said. This time around, he saw people “sharing it on Facebook,” and when a family member asked him if he was interested, Reuben said, “With no hesitation, I was all in for it.”
Reuben’s mom, Vanessa, was excited to hear about tryouts. She knew that the Games have been going for years. Vanessa actually participated in the 1995 Games in basketball for Team Minnesota, she just hadn’t “heard of tryouts until this year.” She fully supported him taking a chance to make it on the team — ”He’s pretty good!”
There were three different tryouts Reuben had to go to. Two of them were in Cass Lake and the other was in Red Lake; all three took place in November and December of 2016. The first two rosters came out between February and April. After his name was released with the second roster, Reuben and his family had a pretty good idea that he would be selected to play on the team in July. It wasn’t until June 2017 that the final roster was released. “I was on all three rosters,” Reuben said. “When (it) came out, I knew it was gonna be a fun run.” Reuben and his six other teammates beat out 70-some other young men for a slot on Minnesota’s team.
The other players, Reuben continued, mostly came from Red Lake. That was promising in and of itself. Red Lake has “been on a roll these past few years.” Seeing the line-up of solid players made Reuben turn his eyes to the prize: The team was going for the gold. He admitted, “I had very, very high expectations.”
“But we came up one game short,” Reuben said. His team, though, was the “only undefeated team until the championship game.” Team Minnesota still came home with a silver medal and for that, Reuben said, “I still am proud and I still feel like we exceeded the expectations.”
It seemed to him that Team Minnesota made up the “underdogs.” In the semi-finals, they went up against a team with 13 players — compare that to the seven players that made up the team Reuben was on. “They had depth,” but they won that game and proceeded to the gold game.
Not only did the Games give Reuben a chance to take his competitiveness to the next level, the experience “meant a lot … emotionally.” His family got to take a vacation — they got to see Niagara Falls — and he got to “represent Minnesota and my native people.”
Vanessa also cherished the opportunity Reuben was given. “It meant a lot to me for him to be selected to be on the team. … It’s pretty cool to think he’s a role model to younger kids, besides his siblings. Makes me proud!”
Reuben is looking forward to the Jaguars’ basketball season, which is to begin in November. He’s entering his senior year and is looking at attending the University of Minnesota. He’d like to play for the Golden Gophers and thinks he’ll study journalism.