Lacrosse coaches take part in a ceremonial blessing before a game at the 2018 BC Summer Games in the Cowichan Valley.

All-Indigenous teams break new ground, making BC Games history

This is the first time there have been dedicated Indigenous teams at the BC Summer Games

To commemorate the longstanding history that comes with 40 years worth of BC Games, the Cowichan Valley will forever be remembered as the first to host all-Indigenous teams at the provincial championships.

For the 2018 BC Summer Games, the society partnered with the Indigenous Sport, Physical Activity and Recreation Council to create dedicated teams in traditionally First Nation sports such as box lacrosse and basketball. In canoeing and kayaking, additional spots were provided for Indigenous athletes and coaches too.

“I think people get inspired when they see something like this,” said 16-year-old Clinton Kaboni of Merritt.

“I think of it like we’re the Jamaican bobsledding team, you know, it’s never been done before but we’re here. We’re just here to have fun. I think everyone is excited to play us – I’m excited to play everybody else.”

Clad in purple, Kaboni was one of about 15 players representing the Zone 6 Vancouver Island – Central Coastal and Team Indigenous on the box lacrosse floor.

Over in basketball, the Zone 7 North-West team was made up of athletes and coaches mostly from Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert, and quickly became the underdogs of the tournament.

This team, like others from the region, took two-and-a-half days to arrive, starting with a six-hour ferry ride to Prince Rupert, followed by a two-hour drive to Terrace. There, they hopped on a plane to Nanaimo and shuttled to the valley.

The team also faces some disadvantages on the court as well: a majority off the team was made up of 11 and 12 year olds, competing against mostly 13 and 14 year old players, and their tallest player stood at 5 foot 11.

Although neither team medaled, this year’s Games were about more than inclusivity for the young boys and girls, and instead an opportunity to grow their identity, stand tall with pride and play with heart, said lacrosse coach Buzz Manuel.

“The bigger goal is to have our athletes walk away with a big sense of pride and a strong understanding of who they are and where they come from,” he said.

Indigenous posters welcome guests in Hulquminum

Organizers of the games also infused ancient traditions of the Cowichan Tribes, led by Chief William Seymour, at the opening and closing ceremonies, including through a blessing, blanketing ceremony and performances.

Outside the lacrosse box and other venues in the Cowichan Valley, welcome signage written in English and French were joined by messages written in the Hulquminum language – the most prominent spoken word of the eight First Nations in the region.

Translated by Dr. Luschiim (Arvid Charlie), the signs include a bit of the long sports history Indigenous athletes share.

“They’re putting us on their level, like we’re equal,” Kaboni said. “We have the right to speak our language… they’re accepting we have our own language and we speak it and I like that a lot.”

– With files from Arnold Lim


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