One of the best things about the North is the amount of sporting events our young – and not-so-young – athletes get to play in.
We have the Canada Winter Games, Canada Summer Games, Arctic Winter Games, Western Canada Summer Games, North American Indigenous Games … you name it. There isn’t any way you can say that our athletes don’t get the chance to play because they do.
There have been a multitude of athletes who have come out of the North that have gone on to bigger and better things after competing in those major events (yes, I call them all major events because they are, even if some don’t always agree that they are) and as we head toward National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21, let’s look at some who have done so. If we’re talking about big time professional athletes, there is that one who stands out: Jordin Tootoo. Tootoo is the poster boy for Northern hockey players who wonder if they can make the big time and the answer is yes, you too can play in the National Hockey League for more than 700 games if you work hard enough.
I’ve always said that parents who sign their kids up to play any sort of sport should do so on the assumption that their child will not become a superstar because the odds are literally against them doing so. That doesn’t mean you can’t dream and not work toward it because that’s what Tootoo did and he succeeded. What’s great is that he’s now trying to give young Indigenous athletes the same chances he had to succeed, which should be the modus operandi of any professional athlete who makes it big.
Skiing is another sport which has produced many Indigenous athletes of high stature and merely naming just one or two wouldn’t be fair to anyone. So here goes:
Sharon Firth, Shirley Firth, Fred Kelly, Roseanne Allen, Antoine Mountain, Paul Andrew, David Cook, Harold Cook, Anita Allen, Angus Cockney, Bert Bullock, Ernie Lennie, Alfred Masuzumi … with apologies for anyone I missed.
Every single one of those skiers has one thing in common – all are graduates of the Territorial Experimental Ski Training (TEST) Program. The late Father Jean-Marie Mouchet was the man responsible for putting it together and taken over later by the late Bjorger Pettersen, who eventually became head coach of the Canadian cross-country ski team.
No one program, arguably, has produced more top national and international talent than TEST did and I’m in same boat as Harold Cook, who said a few years back that TEST should return in some form.
Cook said it was a way for him to channel his anger of the abuse he suffered during residential school in a healthy way but now, it could be used as a way to help youth steer clear of alcohol and drugs.
When you think of curling in the North, you think of the Koe family. Kevin Koe was born in Edmonton but since he spent his formative years in Yellowknife, people consider him a Northerner. He’s only gone on to become one of the world’s premier curlers with four Brier titles to his credit (Canadian men’s curling championship), two World Men’s Curling Championship crowns, multiple wins on the Grand Slam of Curling circuit and skipped the men’s entry at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Jamie Koe has been the best men’s skip in the NWT for many years with several appearances at the Brier with that memorable run in 2012 among his achievements. Likewise, Kerry Galusha (nee Koe) has been the skip to beat on the women’s side for a long time and has one feather in her cap that no other women’s skip from the North can say as she was the first to win a World Curling Tour event, that being the 2018 Royal LePage Fall Women’s Classic.
I wish I had more room because I could talk about the Beck-McQueen families in dog mushing, the lovely and talented Meika McDonald (and her lovely and talented daughter, Veronica McDonald) in Arctic sports, Sean Nipisar in Arctic sports, Andy Attagutalukutuk in dog mushing, Josie Cote in hockey, Bradley Nowdluk-Fraser in hockey, Joe Dragon in hockey, Brenda Moreau in darts, the late Floyd Daniels in softball, Eekeeluak Avalak in wrestling, Jesse Cockney in cross-country skiing … you get the idea.
So, yeah – there are a few Indigenous athletes who have done alright, eh?