Dawson Nootchtai wins four silver medals in the Under-19 Cateogry at this year’s North American Indigenous Games. Photo courtesy of: Dawson Nootchtai.

By Sam Laskaris

WELLAND – Dawson Nootchtai insists his competitive kayaking days are over.

If the 17-year-old member of the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation is indeed serious, then he had a rather impressive swan song in his kayaking career.

Nootchtai won four silver medals in the boys’ under-19 category at this year’s North American Indigenous Games (NAIG), which concluded on Saturday, July 22.

About 5,000 athletes and coaches from across Canada and the United States took part in the Games, which were primarily staged in Toronto. Nearby communities also hosted some events.

The kayaking competitions were staged at the Welland International Flatwater Centre.

Winning a handful of medals at the NAIG, however, is nothing new for Nootchtai. At his first NAIG appearance in 2014 in Regina, he captured three gold medals in the boys’ under-16 division.

As for this year, Nootchtai’s won his medals in his 200-metre, 1,000-metre, 3,000-metre and 6,000-metre individual races.

“I think I’m done with [kayaking] now,” said Nootchtai, who has been a member of the Sudbury Canoe Club the past four years. “I’ve had my time with it. I just want to spend my time on other things.”

Like playing other sports.

Nootchtai played both football and hockey this past year for the St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School Bears in his Grade 12 year.

He will be returning to the Sudbury high school in September and plans to play for its football squad once again. But at this point he’s not certain if he’ll also stick around and play for the Bears’ hockey club in the winter as well.

Nootchtai was also a member of the Ontario boys’ squad that captured a silver medal at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships, staged in May in Cowichan, British Columbia.

While starring for the Bears, Nootchtai was selected as the top defenceman in the Sudbury District Secondary Schools’ Athletic Association. He also cracked the league’s all-star team.

Though he is still uncertain of where he’ll play hockey this coming season, Nootchtai aspires to play at the Junior ‘A’ level, possibly with a franchise in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.

As for this year’s NAIG experience, Nootchtai said he was not upset over the fact that he didn’t win any gold medals this time around.
“I’m not disappointed at all,” he said. “It was for the experience and having some fun.”

To that end, Nootchtai decided to also enter a pair of canoeing events at the NAIG. He finished eighth in his 500-metre race and placed seventh in his two-man 1,000-metre event.

A total of 14 sports were contested at this year’s NAIG. Nootchtai and other members of the Team Ontario kayaking squad stayed in Hamilton during the Games.

Nootchtai attended the Games’ opening ceremonies which were held in Toronto. But he didn’t stick around for the closing ceremonies, opting to head home after his final race on Thursday.

But he did get to see a little bit of other NAIG sports action.

“I watched a little bit of soccer because we were staying in Hamilton and that’s where they played,” he said.

Nootchtai was also pleased his races were held in Welland. He had previously competed at the venue a number of times with the Sudbury Canoe Club. He believes his familiarity with the course helped him.

“I had more confidence and you know what the weather is going to be like,” he said.