At a special ceremony during the opening of the 1999 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg, Manitoba, seven Indigenous men in their fifties entered the stadium in war canoes. One of them held the Games torch. In 1967 when Winnipeg first hosted the Pan American Games, ten outstanding athletic teenage boys were chosen to run 800 kilometers over an ancient message route with the Games torch. When the runners arrived at the stadium, they were not allowed to enter with the torch. Instead, a non-Indigenous runner was given the honour. Thirty-two-years later, the province of Manitoba issued an official apology.
Nine of the ten young men chosen for the 1967 Pan Am Games torch run were from residential schools. Niigaanibatowaad is about the segregation of the Indigenous athletes and the despair and abuse suffered in the school system. Niigaanibatowaad: FrontRunners is a story of survival, hope, reconciliation and a dream for a new beginning that transcends hatred and racism.