Tulalip athletes compete in games

Tulalip wrestling champion Demitri Robinson will compete internationally early next month for the first time in his young career.

The 15-year-old, who won the state title in his weight class in February, will debut alongside nearly 5,000 other athletes in a week-long event at Cowichan, B.C., that is native North America’s answer to the Olympics.

“There’s a lot of mental preparation involved, because this is an international competition,” said Tony Hatch, a Tulalip Tribes board member and Robinson’s wrestling coach at Heritage High School.

Hatch said he expects Robinson and two other Tulalip wrestlers, brothers Drew and Skylar Hatch, to dominate the mat at Cowichan, and possibly bring home more than one gold medal.

The 2008 Indigenous Games will begin on August 3, when a story pole that is being slowly carved by indigenous artists as it travels throughout British Columbia arrives at Cowichan Bay, home to the Cowichan Tribes. The story pole left Cowichan on May 1, and will return by August 3, after an estimated 10,000 carvers have whittled into it, said Alicia Maluta, spokeswoman for the games.

The story pole is the indigenous version of the Olympic torch, Maluta said.

About 4,500 of the athletes will compete in the junior class, for athletes between the ages of 13 and 19, Maluta said. The athletes over the age of 19 will compete in the senior class. Athletes will compete in 14 events, including wrestling, basketball, swimming, lacrosse, track and field and soccer.

The Tulalip Tribes is sending a team of about 50 athletes, said Harold Joseph, Jr., a Tulalip tribal member who is a regional representative for the games.

That’s the largest Tulalip team ever, he said. Tulalip athletes first participated in the indigenous games in 1990, with a team of about 15 athletes.

About 170 athletes are traveling from Washington state to compete, Maluta said. The rest of the athletes are coming from as far north as Nunavut, the Canadian province that stretches toward the North Pole, and from as far south as Arizona.

Many of the athletes from the Pacific Northwest will arrive by hand-carved canoe as part of the annual Coast Salish Canoe Journey, in which hundreds of canoes travel the region’s waterways to the biggest potlatch of the year.

“Not only are the athletes training for their events, they’re also training for the canoe journey, which is really strenuous,” Joseph said. “The canoes are out on the water for two weeks.”

Canoes from as far north as Bella Coola, B.C. are already traveling to Cowichan Bay, Maluta said. Hundreds of canoes are expected.

The Indigenous Games are scheduled to end on August 10.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or kkapralos@heraldnet.com.

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