By RYAN KING
– with files from René J. Roy
STEPHENVILLE – Last week the federal government announced that it will be providing funds for Indigenous communities in Newfoundland and Labrador through the Aboriginal Sport and Recreation Circle. Speaking at the announcement were Jerry Wetzel, chair of the Circle, and Gudie Hutchings, MP for the Long Range Mountains. A presentation was also made by outreach worker, Valentina Nolan. Also at the presentation were Boas Mitsuk, who oversees traditional games, and Mike Alexander, the Team Indigenous NL co-ordinator.
In every province and territory in Canada there exists an aboriginal sport body. The Aboriginal Sport Recreation Circle of Newfoundland, Labrador is a sport body for the province. Wetzel noted that with the funding that started a year ago, the Circle will have $780,000 to run the program until 2023 and perhaps even beyond that. The money comes from the Sport for Social Development in Indigenous Communities funding program.
“Every Indigenous sport body,” said Wetzel, “basically based on our own insistence, was given the freedom to develop the programming that they wanted to use in their own communities, in their own province and territories.”
Developing the program involves several steps. First, staff were hired to reach out to Indigenous communities. Second, funding was provided to develop a questionnaire to see what communities needed for sport and recreation. Third, the information was collected into a report. Fourth, these findings will be presented at Indigenous Sport and Recreation Summits that will hopefully be held this coming year. Fifth, a sport and recreation plan will be developed for each community based on that information.
“It’s a bottom up, not a top-down approach, and we want to make sure that if we’re going to spend money that the needs of the communities are clearly identified and addressed,” said Wetzel.
MP Hutchings believes that this funding will pave the way for healthier communities and increased Indigenous involvement in sports.
“It’s wonderful to be here to announce it, and the work that’s carried out by the Aboriginal Sport and Recreational Circle is to promote inclusion, diversity, and a healthy lifestyle. It’s providing pathways for Indigenous athletes and coaches to better participate in provincial and national sports, and sport organizations will result in healthier lifestyles, better engagement in their sport of choice, fostering connections along the way. It’s simple, increased participation leads of course to increased opportunities and greater success in life,” said Hutchings.
Valentina Nolan, outreach worker with the Circle, delivered a presentation on the details of the programs and projects the Circle will implement and those that they are in the process of implementing now.
Mike Alexander explained the importance of the Atlantic Games, which was held in 2019 in Nova Scotia.
“Approximately 500 athletes competed at the games. Newfoundland sent a contingent of a little over 50 and we did extremely well. These games are also slated for 2022. It’s going to be held in different locations in Atlantic Canada, to help to address the COVID pandemic situation,” said Alexander.
Alexander noted that the most important thing resulting from the games is a sense of community.
“It enhances friendship and a sense of community among Indigenous peoples right across Atlantic Canada, because when you do get together, of course, it’s competition in sport, but it does create a sense of family, success and connection between people,” said Alexander.
Mitsuk, who is from Hopedale, also provided some information regarding the traditional Labrador Annual Games that the Circle is developing. The information they put forward will allow communities to engage in traditional games.
“Before we got hit by the 2nd wave of the lockdown, I was in process of integrating local elders getting their background, history, and knowledge of the Innu games,” said Mitsuk. “And with all this knowledge and history we record from our elders, the information will be developed into our own Innu Games Manual. These manuals will be distributed out to all Indigenous communities, not just in Labrador, but the Indigenous communities in Newfoundland as well.”