Wood Buffalo set to welcome Circumpolar North in 2023

Every two years the North celebrates circumpolar sports and Indigenous culture through the Arctic Winter Games (AWG).

The AWG is a high-profile sports competition for northern and arctic participants first held in Yellowknife in 1970 with 500 participants from Yukon, Northwest Territories and Alaska.

In 2023 this celebration will take place across Wood Buffalo and highlight all our community has to offer while bringing together our international neighbours. The Wood Buffalo Games were originally slated for March 2022, but in a planned and proactive response to the global pandemic, the International Committee (IC) decided to postpone the event.

From January 29 to February 4, 2023, the region will welcome approximately 2,100 participants, coaches and officials from the Northwest Territories (NWT), Yukon, Nunavut, Alaska, Greenland, Nunavik (Northern Quebec), Northern Alberta and the Indigenous people (Sami) of Norway, Sweden, and Finland.


To be eligible to compete in the Arctic Winter Games, teams must be located above the 55th parallel north circle of latitude on the globe. This means contingents are coming from some of the most remote parts of the arctic. Team Sapmi, for example, are part of the Sami people who travel with the herds of reindeer in remote areas of Norway, Sweden and Finland.

Over the course of the week, 20 sports at more than ten venues will be played, spanning from speed skating in Fort McKay to badminton in Anzac. In addition to standard multi-sport games, the AWG includes the Dene Games and Arctic Sports. Dene Games combine traditions and culture, which focus on showing sportsmanship, competition and friendship with events like finger pull, snow snake and stick pull. Arctic Sports, meanwhile, is practiced primarily by the Indigenous peoples of the arctic and includes events such as one-foot-high kick, airplane and knuckle hop.

You will notice the medals will look different at the AWG. These participants aren’t competing for regular medals, instead, they win gold, silver and bronze Ulus. In Inuktitut, ulu () means “woman’s knife” reflecting the historic use of the tool by female Inuit.

Another unique feature of the AWG is the Hodgson Trophy – named after Stuart Hodgson, former Commissioner of NWT. At the end of the week, officials vote for a contingent whose participants best exemplify the ideals of fair play and team spirit.

There are many ways the Arctic Winter Games are unique and unlike any other multi-sport event and we are thrilled to host and share with you this dynamic celebration of sport and culture in our region.

The excitement and anticipation for the first AWG in five years is building and now less than one year out it is full steam ahead with many exciting initiatives and events for the community.

A Time to Shine

A simple slogan can mean so much! The Wood Buffalo 2023 Arctic Winter Games believes that we all deserve a moment to shine. Whether it is a participant with dreams of the podium, a volunteer with the spirit to give back, or an organization with the drive to support, the Games are a Time to Shine.

Through our culture and community spirit – we can shine together.

A Showcase of International and Local Culture

Culture plays just as big of a role in the Arctic Winter Games. Each contingent sends cultural performers to participate in a cultural gala. These participants may also perform pop-up performances in the community and for their peers throughout Games week giving the region a firsthand look at the Indigenous cultures of the North.

The Games also provide the region the opportunity to share local Indigenous culture and to support Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action. The Host Society is committed to following in the path of Truth and Reconciliation and has chosen Calls to Action #87, #91 and Beyond 94 to follow on our path to hosting the Games.

In the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation, the Host Society developed a Land Acknowledgement to be read at the beginning of meetings and events, along with an Acknowledgment video that expands that use digitally while showcasing the beauty of our region.

The Arctic Winter Games Elder in Residence, Alice Martin, shared her knowledge on the development of the Land Acknowledgement in collaboration with Culture Committee Chair Allison Flett. Martin believes this is a great act of reconciliation.

“I am reminded of where I come from, with all the gifts our people were given,” said Martin. “This gives me great pride and that deep understanding to see and work with those who have the courage to apply these teachings and gifts in their daily lives in a kind and respectful way.”

A Mascot and a Friend

Nitotem the Lynx, which means “my friend” in Cree, was brought to life and illustrated by Sadie Antoine of Fort McMurray through a local mascot design contest.

Nitotem was officially unveiled to the public in fall 2020, which was paired with the launch of the Mascot Program generously sponsored by A.P.E. Maintenance Ltd.

The program promotes the Games while supporting education, culture and community engagement initiatives.

As an ambassador, look for Nitotem going across the region and sharing his excitement for the Games. And, if you have an event coming up, you can request Nitotem to make an appearance!

An Opportunity for Everyone

Our initiatives, like the mascot program, wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of our volunteers.

Volunteers are the heart of the Wood Buffalo Arctic Winter Games. The energy, eagerness and commitment to the event, the participants and their community make a difference in the Games experience.

The Games will need approximately 2,000 volunteers during the event and in the last year over 100 people spent countless hours contributing to the success of the Games through operational planning committees.

“We are very fortunate to have highly skilled committee chairs who have provided us with their knowledge, time and commitment,” said Charity Wiley, Senior Manager, Sport and Operations. “Our volunteers are helping create a lasting legacy and positive impact on volunteerism and sport in the community.”

You can now register your interest to volunteer for the Games on Wood Buffalo Volunteer’s website but be sure to look out in the fall for when we launch our full recruitment campaign.

A Community Partnership

This event is truly a community collaboration and another way to be involved in the Games is through sponsorship!

From a grade school education program that is rooted in culture and the celebration of sport, to the torch relay and 20 sporting events, the Games provide different sponsorship options that give everyone their time to shine. There are six different sponsorship levels and a variety of other naming rights and activations.

A goal of any multi-sport Games is to generate legacies to further the future development of sport and culture in a host community or region. The Wood Buffalo 2023 Arctic Winter Games is more than just competition: It is about partners, community and creating a memorable experience for all – before, during and after the Games take place.


Follow our journey on social media at WoodBuffalo2023 on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Linkedin and find more information on our website

Wood Buffalo, it’s our time to shine!

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