Evan John says it’s his dream to become fluent in Oneida, a language which he says has as few as 55 fluent speakers.
The 17-year-old competed at York University in Toronto this week at the North American Indigenous Games. The Windsor, Ont. area resident was busy during the athletics portion of the NAIG. Competing in six events, including two relays, two individual sprints and two field events, the talented sprinter hauled in four medals, including a gold in the men’s 19-and-under 100m.
He first got into running through lacrosse. “When I was a kid, I was told by my uncle, who was a professional lacrosse player, and my dad that I had to run to be a famous lacrosse player,” he says. “That’s what I wanted to be.”
John, known by some as “gazelle” for his quickness, added three silvers to his gold at York Lions Stadium in the long jump, 4x400m relay and 200m, all in the 19-and-under category. His long jump performance is no surprise. The multi-event star won the junior boys long jump at the Ontario High School Track and Field Championships (OFSAA), one of the most competitive high school events in North America, in 2016.
“I use sport as my way of expressing my voice,” he says. “If I didn’t have opportunities like this [NAIG], I feel as though I wouldn’t be as big as I am confidently and social-wise. It’s allowed me to connect with people across Canada.”
Away from the track, John has been keen on becoming fluent in Oneida, an Iroquoian language.
“It’s a very complex language to learn,” he says. “I’m not fluent yet, but I’m really trying because that’s my dream. It’s been important to my family. My parents even put me in a French school [when I was younger] because some French vowels are close to the Oneida vowels which made learning a lot easier.”
His birth name is Sahonwis, which he says means longboat. “I was told that longboat means to hold a lot of people,” he explains. “It’s me carrying the thoughts and feelings of other people. I care for a lot of people and I like to embrace it in the sport of track supporting my team.”
The North American Indigenous Games are held every three years and features indigenous North American athletes, aged 13-19, who compete in a variety of disciplines, not unlike the sports offered at the Olympic Games. Teams from all provinces and territories of Canada were present as well as 13 regions from the United States.
The 2017 NAIG conclude on July 22.