How athletes are getting more youth involved in sports put InFocus

Sport has been an important part of Indigenous lives across Turtle Island, long before colonization, and it continues to bring our communities together today.

There are some instances where the effects of colonization can still be seen however, even at the highest level.

A TSN feature titled The Unwanted Visitor highlights Ted Nolan’s story of racism at the highest level of the game.

Nolan shares what happened during his time with the Buffalo Sabres and how a decision in the best interest of a player’s health led to the fallout.

Nolan, from Garden River First Nation in Ontario, was drafted by and played for the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins.

He also coached for the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders in the NHL, as well as the Latvian men’s national team.

Nolan talks about his story as a coach but his experience with racism started years prior – as a player playing junior hockey at 16 years old.

“It wasn’t pretty. I left home when I was 16 years old for the very first time to try to pursue hockey and that’s when I really, racism really slapped you right in the side of the head and really woke you up to realities and I cried myself to sleep. I mean if you see that piece about my younger brother, how emotional he was it was hard, Ted said.

Nolan and his two sons Jordan and Brandon also run their own hockey camp primarily in First Nation communities, and they have a clothing line called 3 Nolan’s.

He said working with his two boys is the best job he has ever had, and the lessons they teach are a direct result of the experiences they all faced.

“We try to teach them you know what it really is and we talk to the, we have a parents session and we talk to the kids and parents about some of the obstacles that they may face when leaving home. We talk about some of the decisions that they have to make as far as substance abuses and so forth and nutrition and I guess the bottom line is it’s about perseverance, about sticking through it.”

Joy SpearChief-Morris and James Lavallée have both competed for Canadian national teams in their respective sports.

SpearChief-Morris is a hurdler with aspirations of going to the Tokyo summer Olympics. Lavallée has since left his sport competitively but is using the water as a way to teach youth traditional skills.

“Usually around this time I’d be getting ready to go down to a training camp in California for all of April. With Covid restrictions and travel restrictions, that’s just not a possibility for me this year. I’m looking at competing outdoors beginning in may and they’re going to be mainly local in Ontario so I’m really hoping I can find some high quality elite meets across Canada. Hopefully I’ll make it out west for a couple of meets as well and then the trials are in June, at the end of June in Montreal,” SpearChief-Morris said.

“I started a non-profit called waterways recreation and so we offer programs to get indigenous youth back on the water canoeing and connecting with the land and exploring their identities,” Lavallée said.

Former UFC flyweight champion Nicco Montaňo is part Navajo and part Chickasaw and was raised in the Navajo nation.

Her UFC flyweight title came as part of The Ultimate Fighter 26, and she is trying to help the Navajo nation with a new utility business.

“We’re working just to improve, for lack of better terms, improve Navajo nation in terms of running water and sewage and just everything, Wi-Fi. Because right now everybody, my sister included has to be in school online and Wi-Fi, if you know how the rez works and you know how the village works, Wi-Fi can be kind of not so consistent so we’re going to be working on that, making sure everybody has the same basic essentials,” said Montaňo.

“You know it’s a luxury for us on the rez to have these things and I think nobody really understands that it is.”

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