A new Indigenous-led, non-profit organization is ready to launch a paddling program in Manitoba this summer.
James Lavallée, a Manitoban and former Team Canada sprint kayaker, is one of five directors leading the way.
The initiative is expected to get 1,000 young people from Indigenous communities on the water.
“You know at the end of the day we really want to provide an opportunity for recreation for these kids,” said Tristan Schneider, another of the directors of Waterways Recreation.
“We believe that this is the kind of programming that improves mental and physical health and that’s our goal at the end of the day.”
The program will run in nine First Nations in Manitoba and teach members of the community how to run the program themselves.
Lavallée is devoting himself full-time to the project.
“I would much rather be dedicating that same effort to creating opportunities for other Indigenous youth and that’s ultimately what pushed me to decide to retire or end my career in competitive paddling,” he said, “but to start something new and create more opportunities for other people.”
The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the launch of the program, but Manitoba’s low infection level made it possible for the program to eventually reach Indigenous communities.
Lavallée said paddling helped him discover more about his Métis heritage – something he hopes will work for other Indigenous kids.
“All our programs are designed to be specific and built in collaboration with the communities so we really can build in and enhance that cultural benefit while these youth are getting that physical aspects as well,” he said.
The organization hopes to find more funding to offer programs in additional Indigenous communities.