By Ray Unger
In October 2008, three men got together to talk about sports. Marvin Bob (former Chief of the Ts’kw’aylaxw First Nation for 14 years), Rick Alec (Addictions and Health Councilor for the Ts’kw’aylaxw First Nation for 21 years), and Roger Adolph (former Chief of the Xaxli’p First Nation for 21 years) concluded that competitive sports had drastically declined in the last two decades. There is limited sport activity available for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth, resulting in growing problems such as alcohol and drug abuse, gang activity, bullying, education dropout, criminal incarceration, and family dysfunction. However, positive alternatives are both possible and necessary. Marvin, Rick, and Roger started Just Do It Sport Society to promote leadership and development and help young people make better choices.
Traditionally, Aboriginal people practiced and trained holistically in all aspects: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Overall fitness was simply a way of life. Politics, however, has had a drastic impact on that holistic practice and cultural expression. From 1950-80 Indian Sports were popular and highly competitive. From 1972-79 the federal government implemented a five-year experimental support program for Canada’s Aboriginal people. The BC provincial government also supported this initiative. Community sports, playoffs, and Indigenous Games competition at the provincial and national levels took place in soccer, fastball, rodeo, war canoe racing, basketball, boxing, and hockey. However, the federal government’s Treasury Board felt the program conflicted with the concept of supporting Aboriginal sports as cultural and social events, and in 1979, the experimental program was terminated. The purpose and criteria of the provincial government’s First Citizens Fund was changed for economic purposes. With no leadership or financial support, the Aboriginal sport playoff system faltered, and Aboriginal sport began its decline.
Our young people are an important resource for the future of Canada. Athletic development can help our youth practice a healthy lifestyle and improve social order. Unfortunately, many young people cannot participate in organized sports because of socio-economic limitations, outdated technology, and a lack of program leadership. Many Aboriginal families simply cannot afford the expense of getting their children in organized sports. Even if facilities and coaches are available, there is still the cost of equipment, travel, and time commitment to consider. This problem is especially prevalent in remote communities with small populations where schools are cannot budget for competitive sports programs. As a result, sports participation has decreased significantly and negative social trends are gaining momentum in our communities and schools.
The Lillooet District Municipality, for example, has a population of about 8,628. Approximately 6,304 of that number come from eleven Aboriginal communities of the St’át’imc Nation. In the Lillooet District Minor Hockey Association there are a total of 136 players and 15 coaches. Of these, only 55 players and 5 coaches are Aboriginal. Today, the Municipality of Lillooet has a recreation centre that includes an ice hockey/figure skating arena, swimming pool, fitness centre, gymnasium, and a fast-ball/soccer field with bleachers. The Lillooet District Minor Hockey Association, Lillooet Figure Skating Association, and Lillooet Swim Club have all shown reasonable success as organized sports, relying on fundraising, sponsorship, membership fees, and donors for support.
Lillooet is dependent on the forestry and mining industries, and has been affected by the recent global financial recession. The local mill has terminated operation indefinitely. Fund-raising is a major local activity in support of social, cultural, and sports programs. But local fund-raising is limited by a community’s available income, and much of that is already exhausted. The Municipality of Lillooet has three elementary schools and one senior secondary with 663 total registered students (405 Aboriginal). Low enrollment and budget constraints closed one elementary school, but all schools have a gymnasium and playing fields. In previous years, the senior secondary school participated in organized basketball, soccer, badminton, and volleyball. In 2008, Lillooet Secondary School rugby and track sports had good participation and success. Now, these sports no longer exist. All organized school sports in Lillooet have been eliminated due to budget restrictions.
Aboriginal communities throughout the province of BC lack specific funds and services for organized sports programs and activities. Just Do It Sport Society’s objective is to change this trend. Once established, this model can be used in other areas of the province and the nation. Their “just do it” spirit is proactive. With organization and leadership, they can help provide opportunities for youth to compete at all levels (from local to international) through the support of organized sports. For more information or to make a donation, contact Roger Adolph, Director by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (250) 256-7559.