Olympic-bound First Nations swimmer receives ceremonial headdress

Tuesday, June 11th, 2024 12:45pm


Image Caption

Swimmer Apollo Hess received a headdress in ceremony from his community, the Kainai Nation. Photo by Blaire Russell.
By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Kainai Nation in Alberta has honoured one of its members. He heads overseas next month to compete in the Summer Olympics in Paris, France.

Swimmer Apollo Hess was presented with a headdress at a ceremony held at the Red Crow Community College on June 3 in Standoff, Alta.

Among those in attendance were Kainai Nation (Blood Tribe) leadership and administration officials, representatives from the Blackfoot Confederacy, as well as spiritual leaders, Hess family members and community supporters.

The entire ceremony can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWpEhyqxej0

“A big part of my development as an Indigenous person was the love I received from many of you here,” Hess said.

He also acknowledged his family members and friends, most notably his mother Ingrid, for helping him achieve his successes.

Hess, who is 21, also provided details on his career and how he was able to qualify for the Olympics.

“If you have a dream and you really want it, you speak it out into the universe and it will happen,” he said.

Hess was named to the Canadian Olympic team after he finished second in the men’s 100-metre breaststroke event at national Olympic swimming trials last month in Toronto.

Hess started making a name for himself in 2022. While representing the University of Lethbridge, he won five medals, including two gold medals, at the national university USports championship meet. He was also selected as the USports rookie of the year for swimming that year.

The following year Hess won a pair of medals at the USports meet. Shortly after he moved to Toronto to train at Swimming Canada’s high performance centre.

This year’s Olympics will begin on July 26 and continue until Aug. 11.

Kainai Nation councillor Piinaakoyim Tailfeathers was among those who spoke at the headdress honouring ceremony.

“It’s a really good day to honour Apollo,” Tailfeathers said. “He is the first Blood swimmer to represent the tribe in the Olympics. We want you to know we are behind you. We’re all proud of you. You’re representing our tribe.”

Besides being the first swimmer from his First Nation to qualify for the Olympics, Hess is also believed to be the first Indigenous swimmer to represent Canada at the quadrennial multi-sport competition.

Dr. Genevieve Fox, the education director at the Blackfoot Confederacy, presented Hess with a treaty medallion on behalf of Chief Roy Fox, whose traditional name is Makiinima.

“Makiinima is so proud of what you have accomplished, and we know you will accomplish more in the future,” Fox said. “The blood of your ancestors runs in your veins. Be strong. Continue to do well. Whatever you do, we will be behind you.”

Jack Royal, the CEO of the Blackfoot Confederacy, also praised Hess.

“You’re a role model to a lot of our children. You are blazing a trail that is going to open the doors for other people in the future,” Royal said. “On behalf of all of the chiefs and the Blackfoot Confederacy, I wanted to say thank you and congratulations.”

Hess, who grew up in Lethbridge, started swimming at the age of three. A few years after his introduction into the sport he joined the Excalibur Swim Club based in Lethbridge.

Though he was not raised on his First Nation, Hess thanked relatives who helped him stay connected to his community.

“They made me feel like I belonged,” he said. “It was kind of hard for me growing up because I didn’t grow up on the reserve.”

Hess said he had an inkling early on during his life that he would become an elite athlete.

“I kind of knew from a very young age that being a world-class athlete was my calling,” he said. “I didn’t always know what the path was to get there. But I kind of always knew in the back of my mind that I would make it some day in some way.”

Besides swimming, Hess also played other sports while growing up, including hockey, football, soccer, track and field and cross-country running.

“I don’t know how my mom did it,” he said of getting him to all his sports events. “She’s a super hero.”