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Transforming planning of the 2023 North American Indigenous Games using GIS

The 2023 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG), held from July 15 – 23, 2023 in Kjipuktuk (Halifax), Nova Scotia, brought together over 5,000 Indigenous youth athletes, coaches and team staff from 756+ Indigenous Nations for a historic celebration of culture and sports. Discover how advanced mapping technology transformed the planning and management of this monumental sporting event.  

YouTube video - Connecting Cultures: Planning the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) using GIS. Demonstration of GIS applications created for NAIG 2023.

Connecting Cultures: Planning the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) using GIS. Demonstration by Lauren Wilson, Applications Specialist, Community Planning, Esri Canada.

Planning an event the size of NAIG 2023 took a significant amount of time and attention to detail. Thousands of Indigenous youth athletes competed in 16 different sports across Kjipuktuk (Halifax), Dartmouth and Millbrook First Nation. As the largest celebration of Indigenous sport and culture in Atlantic Canada since contact, NAIG 2023 required massive coordination.   

In preparation for the Games, Esri Canada collaborated with the NAIG 2023 Host Society to improve event planning and management using several mapping applications. Geographic information system (GIS) technology played a pivotal role in enhancing organizational efficiency, logistical planning, communication and collaboration.  

Brendon Smithson, CEO of the NAIG 2023 Host Society, emphasized the value of real-time feedback through GIS, stating, "being able to use a platform where you can share everything that's going on and get feedback instantaneously is so important in these Games."  

Streamlined venue planning and mapping  

GIS technology streamlined venue planning and mapping for 21 venues across Kjipuktuk (Halifax), Dartmouth and Millbrook First Nation. This enabled easy identification of specific stations within each venue, such as medical and security stations.  

Venue Planning and Mapping app screenshot of the Canada Games Centre venue. Information includes address, competing sports, photos and detailed venue maps for athletes, staff and all attendees.

NAIG planning team used GIS to map exterior and interior spaces, create detailed venue layouts, and streamline logistical coordination for the successful execution of the event. 

Sara-Lynne Knockwood, director of sport and venue for NAIG 2023, and her team used planning tools like ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Survey123 to map venues, plan spaces and manage resources efficiently. “The fact that the apps that we partnered with Esri Canada on were able to create efficiencies for us in planning our spaces, it really allowed us to focus on the details that mattered for the athletes to create those experiences for them and to create those safe spaces for them as well."  

Inventory management made easy  

Traditional paper-based processes were replaced with digital solutions, enabling the capture of materials like tables and chairs within each venue. This digital inventory system simplified tracking and made it easier to ensure that all necessary materials were in place.   

Venue Planning and Mapping app screenshot of Survey123 to record the Medical venue assets such as tent, tables and chairs. The venue location is Lake Banook.

NAIG staff contributions via Survey123 enabled detailed inventory tracking in real-time and efficient asset management, enabling better decision-making and resource allocation for the event. 

Enhancing wayfinding and signage  

Effective wayfinding and signage are crucial for any large-scale event. GIS mapping played a major role in planning game-specific wayfinding, information and sponsorship sign placement around the venues. This ensured that attendees could navigate the event with ease and access important information.  

Photo of utdoor banners displaying the NAIG 2023 logo, accompanied by the word "Pjila’si," which translates to "welcome" in the Mi'kmaq language.

Outdoor banners with NAIG 2023 logo, along with a banner behind it reading “Pjila’si” meaning, "welcome" in Mi'kmaq language.

Planning venues in 3D  

In addition to GIS technology, NAIG 2023 used reality capture technology provided by engineering consultant firm EastPoint. This technology incorporated 3D laser scanning and building information modeling (BIM) software to create accurate digital exterior and interior floor plans of the sports venues. These digital representations further enhanced the utility of the GIS applications, allowing users to have precise insights into their surroundings.  

Digital floorplan of a sports venue created by EastPoint using 3D laser scanning and building information modeling (BIM) software. 

Craig MacLachlan, Esri Canada’s professional services manager for the Atlantic Region, was closely involved in the collaboration with the NAIG 2023 Host Society. He noted "it was very fulfilling to see that the work that we were supporting was enabling a broad community of people from all over Turtle Island come to Halifax and have an excellent experience."  

The impact of GIS technology on this monumental event serves as a testament to the power of innovation in enhancing cultural celebrations and sporting events. It's not only a reflection of the importance of preserving Indigenous culture but also a demonstration of how technology can be harnessed to create memorable and transformative experiences.  

To learn more about the GIS applications used for NAIG 2023, watch this recording:   


StoryMap: 2023 North American Indigenous Games 

Explore Esri Canada's work with Indigenous communities  

About the Author

Rosalyn Laiken is a Marketing Specialist for Esri Canada. She focuses on industry solutions marketing and is passionate about exploring the intersection of technology with people. She has two decades of international marketing experience in IT marketing, as well as C-level marketing consulting. Rosalyn holds a bachelor of commerce majoring in marketing from Carleton University. She lived in South Korea and Australia for eight years, and loves using real-time spatial data while paragliding. When she is not glued to her computer, Rosalyn enjoys yoga, travelling, live music and exploring new cuisines.

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