Special Olympics Minnesota hosts Unified Indigenous Games in Cloquet

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Special Olympics Minnesota hosted the Unified Indigenous Games Invitational at Cloquet High School on Friday. Both Cloquet and Duluth East students participated.

Students we met were having a blast playing tag of paddling pretend canoe.

Mandy, from Duluth East, shared, “Meeting new friends and seeing old ones is fun.”

Bella, from Cloquet, added, “I think this is a great idea. It helped me meet Stefen, and we’ve been friends ever since. It’s great to meet new people and it’s a great opportunity.

Special Olympics’ “Unified” model combines students with and without disabilities to play, learn and grow together.

This event began in Bemidji in December 2022. The idea for the event was sparked by a group of students from TrekNorth High School, a Unified Champion School.

Special Olympics Minnesota Schools Program Manager Shannon Murray partnered with local leaders to make it happen.

Dan Ninham was hired as a consultant to develop and manage the first Unified Indigenous Games Invitational in Bemidji and his expertise will guide future Unified Indigenous Games programming.

Ninham is Wolf Clan from the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin and has more than 35 years of experience teaching middle school physical education.

“‘Mii ‘ow ezhi-odaminoyang Anishinaabeg’ means ‘How we play as the people,’” said Ninham. “It will be a special day to showcase some of the physical activities of the indigenous peoples of North America.”

He added, “We look at all the students and all their abilities. You can see their excitement.”

“Special Olympics Minnesota has so much to learn from these games,” said Murray. “Inclusion has been practiced on this land since long before Special Olympics was established and we’re so excited to see our mission displayed in new ways. Unified Indigenous Games give our native students who participate in Unified a space to see their culture reflected and honored in our programming as well as give our non-natives students a cross-cultural learning experience.”

The event incorporated large and small group activities that honor and accommodate the students in attendance.