ISWO: Fifth Annual Indigenous Volleyball Tournament serves up a Winning Set of Athleticism, Community and Opportunity
The 2020 Ontario Native Volleyball Invitational (ONVI) showcased the talents of young Indigenous athletes and provided an opportunity to qualify for a coveted spot on Team Ontario to compete at the upcoming 2020 NAIG.
London, Ontario – The competition was intense and the camaraderie even greater. A total of ten girls’ teams and four boys’ teams, along with their coaches, participated in the fifth annual Ontario Native Volleyball Invitational (ONVI), which took place February 21-23 in London, Ontario. Two of the girl’s teams (Team New Brunswick U15 and Team New Brunswick U17), already selected to represent their province in the sport for the upcoming 2020 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) set to take place in Halifax, Nova Scotia, travelled the distance from New Brunswick to take part in the annual event, supported by Aboriginal Sport and Recreation New Brunswick.
The theme of the entire championship weekend seemed to be one of ‘overcoming challenges’, whether it was the long distances – four of the teams (two girls and two boys teams) travelled more than 27 hours across Ontario with athletes from Bearskin Lake, Fort Frances, Grassy Narrows, Kenora, Red Lake, Shoal Lake 40, Sioux Lookout, Thunder Bay and many other First Nation communities – or playing together as a team for the first time, the tenacity and sheer willingness to give it their all, made this tournament hard to forget.
“It was amazing to see these incredibly motivated athletes, who played their hearts out, showing others (and themselves) what they were made of” said Mekwan Tulpin, High Performance Sport Coordinator with Indigenous Sport & Wellness Ontario. “We had two teams of girls made up of individual registrations and they bonded and played hard together. We had another team who played to honour and pay tribute to a former ONVI athlete who took her own life two years ago; it was an intense and important competition for all of the players. It choked me up and reminded me of how lucky we are to do the work we do in supporting our youth.”
The annual provincial tournament is hosted by Indigenous Sport & Wellness Ontario (ISWO), the designated Provincial/Territorial Aboriginal Sport Body for the province. Now in it’s fifth year, the ONVI has grown in both it’s popularity and as well, in its reputation as a premier volleyball competition for Indigenous youth. This was the first year the event was open to teams from outside of Ontario, a decision met with enthusiasm from both inside and outside of the province.
“Opening the tournament to teams from outside of Ontario, gives our youth a chance to develop their skill sets and compete at higher levels, challenging themselves and growing as athletes,” said Marc Laliberte, President of ISWO. “It was wonderful to see all of the players, coaches and
many of their families participating, competing and just supporting each other in having fun through sport. The stakes are higher this year, as the athletes are vying for a coveted spot on Team Ontario to compete at the 2020 NAIG in July. The mutual respect, the positive attitudes and the camaraderie that the athletes and coaches demonstrated, both on and off the courts, was simply inspiring. Sport is not only about winning; it’s about being the best version of yourself and believing in yourself – and I saw that firsthand.”
With this year’s ONVI serving as a NAIG identifier, and with Team Ontario coaches and ISWO staff on hand to identify potential athletes to represent the province at the upcoming 2020 NAIG, the sport on display was simply exceptional, as talent was showcased in spades.
The tournament was fast paced and, in many cases, surprising. Teams taking the lead early on, struggled later to retain their advantages, and teams that were viewed as the ‘underdog’ provided more than one upset, leading to nail-biting finals that had everyone glued to their seats. The girls’ final championship game had three close sets but the Dream Catchers (supported by the N’Amerind London Friendship Centre and comprised of athletes from Six Nations of the Grand River, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, Kettle and Stony Point First Nation, and Delaware Nation) won two out of the three sets and brought home gold. Team New Brunswick U17 played hard, proving why they were selected to represent their province at the upcoming 2020 NAIG, taking home some hardware as they placed second; third place went to Team Wiikwemkoong, who faced off the Thunder Cats, winning two of the three sets.
With four teams on the boys’ side, the competition was intense. Treaty 3 Titans A (one of the teams who travelled more than 24 hours by bus from northern Ontario to attend) took home the Gold as they won two straight sets, outscoring the Aces, who went home in second place with silver. For the Aces however, that was a huge victory, considering that the team was made of independent registrations who had never played together before. Third place for the boys went to the Treaty 3 Titans B, who won two out of three sets against the Constance Lake Raiders.
“They (the Aces) really put up a fight and played with everything that they had,” said Daniel Smith, Manger of Events and Operations for ISWO. “It was incredible to see these youth, who had never played together before, communicating, supporting one another and earning a second-place victory as a result. The athletes all had fantastic attitudes and displayed great talent.”
The annual tournament was not only a chance to showcase athletic talent, it was also an opportunity to bring together community and celebrate Indigenous culture. As part of the tournament all of the participants, volunteers and coaching staff were invited to attend a community feast hosted at the N’Amerind (London) Friendship Centre (a proud partner of the 2020 ONVI), which featured a traditional opening and blessing by Elder Ken Oliver, cultural performances, and of course a wonderful meal.
All in all, the 2020 ONVI was one for the books, with young Indigenous athletes from across the province, representing more than twenty Indigenous communities, showcasing their athletic prowess and determination to play the game against all odds.
The Ontario Native Volleyball Invitational (ONVI) brings together teams from across Ontario to compete in a friendly, yet competitive invitational style tournament. Indigenous youth of high school age (between the ages of 14-18) travel with their teams and family members to compete and have fun. With a number of cultural and leadership activities offered throughout the entire tournament, ONVI builds confidence, creates friendships and strengthens communities, while creating opportunities for Indigenous youth to participate in competitive sport with their peers. The ONVI is also an identifier for participation in the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG).
Indigenous Sport & Wellness Ontario (ISWO) Quick Facts:
- ISWO is the designated Provincial/Territorial Aboriginal Sport Body (P/TASB) for the province of Ontario, funded through the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport and Sport Canada.
- ISWO serves all Indigenous Peoples and communities across the province of Ontario, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis, living on and off-reserve, in rural and urban settings, encompassing more than 350,000 Indigenous Peoples.
- ISWO promotes and creates opportunities for participation in sport and cultural activities that promote wellness and positive lifestyles for Indigenous Peoples across Ontario.
- ISWO provides opportunities for physical literacy and competitive sport skill development and training by creating sport development pathways, designed specifically for Indigenous youth.
- ISWO is recognized by the Aboriginal Sport Circle (ASC) and the North American Indigenous Games Council, and is the designated sport body for the development, selection and management of Team Ontario, which participates in the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC) and North American Indigenous Games (NAIG).
For more information about ISWO, visit iswo.ca.
ISWO honours the traditional lands and homelands of all Indigenous Peoples and communities across the province of Ontario, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis living both on and off reserve, in rural and urban communities.
Indigenous Sport & Wellness Ontario (ISWO)
Kylie Thompson, Communications and Media Coordinator