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Siksika youth find life pathways through sport

It is said that good sport can make a great difference. Dr. Tyler White, CEO of Siksika Health understands the value of sport in building community, and the positive impacts sport can have on the Nation.

Tyler is the founder of the Siksika Nike 7 (SN7), a program which started in 2015 as an innovative idea after he and a team of Siksika youth travelled to Nike’s annual N7 Sport Summit in the United States. The N7 sees Indigenous professional athletes come together to inspire youth to lead healthier, happier, and more successful lives.

“After those three days and lots of interaction with their ambassadors, I wondered how we could bring this back to our Nation,” says Tyler. “The challenges of suicide, addictions, mental health, violence, intergenerational trauma, and residential schools – we needed to look at a different and creative approach to help us address this. There was nothing like the N7 in Canada so on my second visit I had a conversation with the CEO and we began building this relationship, and then the program with a formal memorandum of understanding with Nike, but operating with our own youth ambassadors.”

The cornerstone of the made-in-Siksika SN7 program sees youth-to-youth mentorship with ambassadors as role models in both sport and cultural activities.

“One of the first ambassadors was my nephew, Rilee Many Bears who was an elite runner on an international level,” says Tyler. “We started recruiting, and we had interest from First Nations communities from across Alberta and even across the country.  It really took off. That first group of SN7 ambassadors were truly committed, invested in this concept, and they also saw the value and the importance of helping other youth through challenging situations. We had athletes, traditional dancers, folks who are academics, those into the arts.”

Tyler says that nearly 65 per cent of the total population of Siksika is under the age of 25, so it was important to create a program that prioritized youth, built capacity, and invested in resources for this age group.

“Our ambassadors were trained to support other youth and took crisis training and are now identified as one of the youth crises teams for Alberta, with communities reaching out to us from across the country,” explains Tyler. “With our youth coming in and connecting with other youth and using this foundation of sports, there was something that clicked, something that was very special and there was this trust that was built.”

Tyler says that in addition to encouraging local youth, the SN7 ambassadors see an opportunity to educate and inspire others outside the Nation and use their platform to tackle racism and discrimination while using sports as the backdrop to bring about understanding.

“This is a generational opportunity, and an opportunity to really make a difference and an impact in a positive way,” says Tyler. “It is such a privilege to lead and develop this program and create a network of friends and partners. We have a larger presence in the city, and I have to acknowledge the support from our good friend Catriona Le May Doan; she and her team at Sport Calgary have been amazing. Her heart and soul and her commitment to sport and how sport can make a huge difference inspires our team. Our wonderful youth ambassadors and mentors lead and build on that relationship that we created. I want to acknowledge The City and Council for seeing the value and importance of our work and for reaching out. We are looking forward to the continuation and growth of our relationship and how we can do more to support The City in terms of the work and education we are doing.”

As part of the recommendations in The City’s White Goose Flying report, The City and its partners are exploring how to incorporate Indigenous content into the design and delivery of recreation and sports programs, services, and facilities. Specifically, The City is looking at the historical contribution of Indigenous athletes in and around Calgary, and recognizing internal practices that could present barriers to participation, or long-term athlete development and growth.

The SN7 has evolved through the years, but remains true to its beginnings with inclusive, peer-to-peer support.

“I am so proud, it is such a beautiful thing to see,” says Tyler. “These guys are true leaders, and they are mentoring the next generation of SN7 ambassadors. They are speaking at universities, conferences, and schools; they are business owners, Stampede Indian princesses, and Masters students. And they are making a huge difference in the healthcare system. As this program starts to mature, other communities see the value of taking this approach. We were the first, but it’s an opportunity to educate. In our culture our Elders tell us these things happen for a reason. It's a blessing to see the SN7 grow to help with the struggles and the challenges that our youth have today. It is a ray of hope as they inspire and empower our community.”

We create safe spaces through mainstream and traditional sports, but it's equally important these younger kids be proud of their culture, be proud of their heritage, be proud of the language.

White Goose Flying report

The White Goose Flying report tells us to:

  • Celebrate Indigenous athletics history
  • Enhance athletic development
  • Deepen policies to promote physical activity
  • Establish stable funding, programs for coaches, anti-racism awareness
  • IncludeIndigen ous participation in international gaming bids

Categories: Community, Indigenous, Recreation