Bemidji High School hosts the inaugural Unified Indigenous Games Invitational

Dec. 13—BEMIDJI — Culture and athleticism were on full display at the inaugural Unified Indigenous Games Invitational at

Bemidji High Schools


As part of a collaboration between

Special Olympics Minnesota

Dan Ninham from Oneida Nation was one of the participants. Dan led more than 120 students from eight schools across northern Minnesota to take part in Indigenous activities. The morning was an opportunity for Dan Ninham to share his knowledge with Native and non Native students.

Ninham stated that her role was to share the Indigenous games. There are many. “There are many ways to move, and the students make connections to Indigenous thinking as they do these.”

With each school switching between eight stations — led by

Bemidji State

students in Professor Sherry Holloway’s Developmental Adapted Physical Education program — games included Indigenous versions of tag and pretend canoe paddling. Ninham explained that each station allowed students to connect to the sociocultural significance Indigenous physical activities.

Ninham stated that “In certain areas, we speak about these games using the past tense and it’s true but not for all of them.” “The Indigenous Games Movement continues, so (this) is a part thereof.”

Ninham was selected to be the consultant for Unified Indigenous Games due to his 38 years teaching experience before he retired. He has been presenting on Indigenous culture to area schools since his retirement.

Ninham’s involvement was also instrumental in the Special Olympics Minnesota’s goal to create accepting schools. To achieve this goal, Special Olympics Unified Sports is combined with inclusive youth leadership and whole school engagement.

Shannon Murray, School Programms Manager at Special Olympics Minnesota, sees integrating the Indigenous aspects into Unified Sports as an important part of representation for Native American students and cross-cultural learning.

Murray stated, “These were the original inclusive games of our land, so I believe it’s very important for us at Special Olympics to learn also from them.”

Murray can substitute teach at

TrekNorth Junior and Senior High Schools

This is the origin of the original idea to host the Unified Indigenous Games.

Murray recalls, “I work alongside some great students from TrekNorth, and the were talking about Indigenous games with Ninham,” “They asked me: “Why don’t you do this for Unified?” “They asked me a great question. It inspired me to make it happen.”

The event was planned over nine months and Will Duncan, a senior at BHS, hopes it will give students some important takeaways.

Duncan said that he was looking forward to meeting new people, helping with the games, and helping out with the planning. “What I’m hoping for is that we can learn and understand the Indigenous Tribes who are visiting us… so we can get these Indigenous games in the Special Olympics.”

Bemidji High School was represented by Voyageurs Expeditionary School. TrekNorth, Red Lake High School was also represented. Park Rapids, Menahga and Grand Rapids were also represented.

Special Olympics Minnesota website states that the organization’s mission is “to provide year-round sports training and competitive athletic competition in a variety Olympic type sports for children and adults living with intellectual disabilities, giving them ongoing opportunities to develop physical fitness and demonstrate courage, experience joy, and to share gifts, skills, friendship and support with their families, Special Olympics athletes, and the community.”

Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools

This mission will be furthered by our efforts to unite students with and without disabilities via sports, whole-school activities, and leadership programs. We aim to encourage inclusion, acceptance, and respect.

BHS was the first school in the region to be designated a Unified Champion School seven years ago.

It was the first district to implement Unified programming districtwide in the state last year.

You can find more information at

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