Sports professionals discuss reconciliation, inclusion of indigenous communities in athletics
The Saskatchewan Winter Games are being held in Regina, and organizers say 156 participants have identified as First Nations, Inuit or Métis. There are 1,373 participants in total.
Inclusion of indigenous people in sports and calls for action “Truth and Reconciliation” was the topic of discussion on Wednesday evening at the University of Regina. The CBC’s Bryan Eneas moderated a panel discussion with members of the indigenous sports community.
Sydney Daniels of Mistawasi’s Nêhiyawak First Nation in Treaty 6 territory delivered the keynote address to kick off the evening. She is the first-ever female NHL scout for the Winnipeg Jets.
Daniels’ list of achievements is long, but she said she wanted viewers to understand that she is not an accurate representation of what life is like for most Indigenous people.
Raised in the United States for most of her life, Daniels attended Harvard University, where she was captain of the Harvard Crimson hockey team. When her playing career in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) ended, she became the team’s assistant coach.
“Since birth, I’ve been given a level of privilege that most Indigenous youth can never experience,” Daniels said.
“There are these hockey players who are just as good as I am, but because they don’t have access to those opportunities, they’re unable to do the things that I’ve been given the opportunity to do.”
But Daniels said she believes her story can show Indigenous athletes and young hopeful Indigenous athletes that they can have great careers and break down barriers.
“Being able to inspire or just influence a child is hands down the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Better than any trophy, better than any title. Better than anything I could ever ask for,” Daniels said.
Financial Access for Indigenous Athletes
Joining Daniels for the panel discussion were her father, NHL veteran Scott Daniels, Team Canada wrestler Jackson Serna, and Sask Sport community development consultant Amy Shipley.
Two main themes emerged throughout the evening: financial access for tribal peoples interested in sport and representation of tribal peoples in the sporting community.
Serna said he believes the state of athletics in Saskatchewan is strong, but he would like to see young athletes learn how to access funding for sports they want to play.
“The diversity here is very low, even though we have a large population of indigenous peoples,” Serna said.
WATCH| A discussion of the calls to action of truth and reconciliation regarding the inclusion of indigenous communities in sport:
“It’s very expensive. My sport [wrestling] is one of the least funded sports so I have to find opportunities and funding from other sources. But I don’t think kids understand that. Some don’t have parents who can help them like my parents did,” Serna said.
He said there must be people around Indigenous youth who can explain how to get into a sport financially and how to stay in the sport.
“I went to a high school wrestling tournament before COVID and saw four Indigenous wrestlers. And two of them didn’t even have wrestling shoes — they didn’t have an undershirt, which are the only two things you need to wrestle in my sport,” Serna said.
Daniels said ice hockey is one of the most expensive sports and that even from a socio-economic perspective, this creates many barriers for Indigenous people.
“So the people who succeed in hockey are very narrow. It’s very specific. And you see that in the NHL, too,” said Daniels, who hasn’t seen many Indigenous women hockey players play in the NCAA.
Daniels said Saskatchewan needs to start at the bottom to create more opportunities, funding and support methods for young Indigenous athletes.
“So athletes [can] play sports and never have to worry about paying entry fees or traveling to an elite hockey tournament this year,” Daniels said.
Indigenous representation in sports leadership
During the panel, Scott Daniels said there also needs to be Indigenous visibility in sports leadership.
“I didn’t really have coaches that came from my background,” he said.
As he rose through the ranks in professional hockey, there were even fewer opportunities to connect with Indigenous peoples in the industry.
“I think that in the future we definitely need more coaches and more educators from our own culture.”
Meanwhile, Shipley started working at Sask Sport 16 years ago.
“But as a young Indigenous woman, Saskatchewan’s sports system wasn’t always easy. I could probably count on my hand the number of Indigenous employees who worked at Sask Sport,” Shipley said.
Since then, Shipley has seen a dramatic shift in financial investment in Indigenous sports. She said funding increased by millions of dollars.
“Now different groups and organizations are calling me and asking, ‘What can we do differently? How can we change? How can we make improvements?’ Whereas 16 years ago I couldn’t even get anyone to call me back.”
But while there has been much progress, Shipley said those in the sports community need to recognize that getting to a place where all people have an equal opportunity to participate takes work.
“We really have to be intentional about this work or it’s not going to happen. We need to reach out to our neighboring communities and talk to people and build those relationships that can really move us forward.”
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