Sports professionals discuss reconciliation, inclusion of Indigenous communities in athletics
The Saskatchewan Winter Games are in progress in Regina, and according to organizers, 156 participants self-identified as First Nations, Inuit or Métis. There are 1,373 participants in total.
Indigenous inclusion in sports and Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action was the topic of conversation on Wednesday evening at the University of Regina. Bryan Eneas of the CBC moderated a panel discussion featuring members of the Indigenous sports community.
Sydney Daniels, of Mistawasis Nêhiyawak First Nation in Treaty 6 territory, gave the keynote speech to kick off the evening. She is the first-ever female NHL Scout for the Winnipeg Jets.
Daniels' list of accomplishments is long, but she said she wanted viewers to understand that she is not an accurate representation of what most Indigenous lives look like.
Daniels grew up in the United States for most of her life and 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 an assistant coach with the team.
"Since birth I've been given an amount of privilege that most Indigenous youth never have the chance to experience," Daniels said.
"There are these women ice hockey players who are just as good as I am, but because they don't have access to those opportunities, they aren't able to do the things that I've been afforded to do."
But Daniels said she believes her story can show Indigenous athletes and young Indigenous athlete hopefuls that they can have a stellar career and break down barriers.
"If I'm able to inspire or just impact one child, then that is the greatest thing I've ever done in my life, hands down. Better than any trophy, better than any title. Better than anything I could ever want," said Daniels.
Financial access for Indigenous athletes
In addition to Daniels, the panel discussion included her father NHL veteran Scott Daniels, Team Canada wrestler Jackson Serna and Amy Shipley, community development consultant for Sask Sport.
Two main topics kept appearing throughout the evening: financial access for Indigenous people interested in sports and Indigenous representation in the sports community.
Serna said he believes the state of athletics in Saskatchewan is strong, but he would like to see young athletes taught how to access funding for sports they want to pursue.
"The diversity is very low here and even though we have a a big population of Indigenous people," said Serna.
WATCH| A discussion on the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, as it pertains to 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 places. But I don't think that kids understand that. Some don't have parents that can help them the way my parents did," Serna said.
He said there needs to be people around Indigenous youth who can explain both how to get into a sport financially, and how to stay in the sport.
"I went to one high school tournament for wrestling back before COVID and I did see four Indigenous wrestlers. And two of them didn't even have wrestling shoes — didn't have a singlet, which are the only two things you need in my sport to wrestle," said Serna.
Daniels said that ice hockey is one of the most expensive sports to play, and that itself creates many barriers for Indigenous people from a socio-economic standpoint.
"So the people who do get to find success in ice hockey is very funnelled down. It's very specific. And you see that in the NHL as well too," said Daniels, who didn't see many Indigenous women hockey players when playing in the NCAA.
Daniels said Saskatchewan needs to start at a grassroots level to create more opportunities, funding and methods of support for young Indigenous athletes.
"So athletes [can] pursue whatever sport that is and never have to worry about if they're able to pay registration fees that year, or if they're able to attend to travel to an elite hockey tournament," Daniels said.
Indigenous representation in sport leadership
During the panel, Scott Daniels said there also needs to be Indigenous visibility in sports leadership.
"I didn't really have any coaches who came from my background," he said.
Once he went moved up in professional hockey, there were even less opportunities to connect with Indigenous people in the industry.
"I think going forward more coaches and more instructors from our own culture is absolutely needed."
Meanwhile Shipley first started working at Sask Sport 16 years ago.
"But as a young Indigenous woman, the Saskatchewan sports system wasn't always an easy place to be in. I could probably count on my hand the number of Indigenous employees that worked at Sask Sport," Shipley said.
Since then, Shipley has seen a dramatic change in financial investment into Indigenous sport. She said funding has ballooned by millions of dollars.
"Now I have different groups and organizations phoning me and asking me, 'what can we be doing differently? How can we change? How can we make improvements?' Whereas 16 years ago I couldn't even get anybody to phone me back."
But while there has been a lot of progress, Shipley said those in the sports community need to acknowledge that getting to a place where all people have equal opportunity to participate is going to take work.
"We have to be really intentional about that work or else it's not going to happen. We need to reach out into our neighbouring communities and talk to people and create those relationships that can really move us forward."
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