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The 2017 North American Games are set to begin in Toronto on Sunday and one of the competition’s leaders is using the event to tout the benefits of sports for Indigenous youth.

Team Saskatchewan’s Chef de Mission, Mike Tanton, told CTV News Channel on Saturday that the competition can help young people succeed in every facet of their lives.

“The North American Games are an excellent showcase of culture and sport and a very integral part for the development of our young people, our young athletes, in the bigger picture,” Tanton said. Indigenous youth 19 or younger compete in 14 different sports at the North American Indigenous Games. Mike Tanton tells CTV News Channel that playing basketball helped him find stability growing up. Tanton said the NAIG is a great stepping stone towards other national programs and bigger sporting events, such as the Olympics. He also said the sporting event showcases Indigenous culture, encourages physical health and fosters friendships among Indigenous youths from across the continent.

From July 16 to July 23, athletes 19 years old or younger will participate in 14 different sports, including basketball, baseball, volleyball, soccer and lacrosse.

The NAIG will be held at venues in Toronto, Hamilton and Six Nations, Ont. Canadian teams are split up by province or territory and the teams from the United States are divided up into 13 regions.

The 41-year-old basketball player discussed how sports played a positive role in his own childhood. Tanton said he never had a lot of stability when he was growing up until he started playing basketball.

“It was a way for me to affirm myself, to build self-esteem, confidence, all that kind of stuff,” he explained. “It was something that for me was a little bit of my own way of dealing with the stresses and the things that I was going through.”

Tanton encouraged all Indigenous young people to sign up for sports and to become active.

“Anybody that plays sports learns life skills from it and it puts them on a track for a healthy lifestyle and something that’s continuous throughout their life and something that they usually pass onto their kids,” Tanton said.

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