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Megwan Muswaggon of Pimicikamak Thunder pitches for Team Manitoba at the Canada Summer Games, playing against Team Newfoundland and Labrador on Wednesday. (Patrick Henri/CBC) Megwan Muswaggon felt nervous the first time he stepped on the pitcher’s mound at the Canada Summer Games.

The softball player from the small northern community of Pimicikamak says the game means a lot to his community.

"I don’t play for myself, but I play for the youth back home," he said. "Just for them to start playing ball and just to not give up and just to give them hope."

The Indigenous community of fewer than 5,000 people is representing the province of Manitoba in men’s softball at the Canada Summer Games. Pimicikamak, at Cross Lake, 530 kilometres north of Winnipeg, has become something of a softball powerhouse, picking up two Western Canadian Softball Championships since 2014.

It’s a stark contrast with the reason Pimicikamak has been in the news in the past: the community has struggled with a youth suicide crisis. In 2016, the community declared a state of emergency after five young people killed themselves within three months and 140 attempted suicide within two weeks.

David Muswaggon, Megwan’s father, coaches the Pimicikamak Thunder. Playing softball contributes to the well-being of the community, he said.

"It brings hope and wellness to our young people, and it’s for the love of the game," said David. "Our people, the Pimicikamak people, love the game of softball, and it’s been there for a good 40 years. I don’t think it’s going to go away anytime soon."

The team is honoured to represent Manitoba at the Games, he said.

"But more importantly, it means a lot more to us as Aboriginal people coming together as one to showcase the skill set that these young people have and their ability to compete at this level."

Megwan said young people in the community follow the team and often come to their practices.

"We’re pretty much role models for them," he said.

The team has struggled at this year’s games. They won their first game against Prince Edward Island, but have lost every game since.

Coach Muswaggon isn’t discouraged.

"I know we’ll be back at the drawing board after we leave here and we’ll be back hopefully in four years’ time to be much better prepared."

Team Manitoba faced Team Newfoundland and Labrador on Wednesday afternoon.

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