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WINNIPEG, April 30 – Head coach Pam Danis, smiles as she watches the young Skownan First Nation basketball players running confidently alongside the Bison Women’s Basketball team. Thanks to a $5,000 grant from the True Sport Community Fund, the two teams have forged a relationship that is organized around keeping Aboriginal youth in school through sport. “Our vision is to create a structured sport team in Skownan by building on the already present interest in basketball,” says Pam Danis, head coach of the University of Manitoba Bison Women’s Basketball team. “The grant has allowed us to start a local coaching program with the long-term goal of creating a sustainable project, where adult volunteers are trained to instruct youth.”
The fund is the result of a partnership between The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and the True Sport Foundation. The goal is to foster healthy lifestyles, community leadership, and social networks within Canadian communities, and in particular, the targeted sectors of Aboriginal, low income, and new Canadian families. To date, 41 communities across Canada have received grants totalling $365,000.
“Through the True Sport Community Fund, we are helping communities to provide tools and programs that will give Canadian children and youth an opportunity to participate in True Sport – sport based on the values of fairness, inclusion, excellence, and fun,” says Victor Lachance, Executive Director of the True Sport Foundation.
“Being a part of this basketball program has given us some wonderful benefits,” says Myrtle Catcheway, Skownan basketball coach. “Not only have we gained new basketball skills, we also learned the value of friendship, commitment, and determination. The students in the program have a good attendance record in school, and a positive attitude. I’m very proud of these students and their parents, and I hope they continue to use these experiences to the best of their abilities.”
Skownan First Nation is a rural community, located four hours northwest of Winnipeg. According to Statistics Canada the total population is 389, and 45 per cent of the community are young people below the age of 20. Skownan is plagued by high unemployment rates, and poor educational outcomes.
These results inspired non-profit organisation, Career Trek Inc., to get involved with supporting the community through educational outreach. “We started an eight-year intervention program with the Skownan First Nation to foster positive career development with the youth, from as early as age nine,” says Darrell Cole, executive director of Career Trek. “The Running with the Bison project is using sport to develop community-leadership skills, while promoting a healthy lifestyle.”
The “Running with the Bison” project has faced many challenges. When coach Danis arrived in Skownan she discovered that the reserve did not have clean water. She raised $10,000 independently, which went towards water delivery, and to provide dispensers in all classrooms. But the biggest concern of the program has been the inability to locate funding beyond those secured for the start-up of the project.
“Skownan is an Ojibwe word meaning ‘turning point’. Though we have been doing great things training kids in the program to become coaches and mentors in the community, we are at that point where we need further financial support to sustain the program,” says Cole. “Despite all these challenges, the people of Skownan are committed to tackling these issues for the betterment of their community.”
Skownan First Nation and the University of Manitoba Women’s Basketball Team have established a true partnership based on mutual sharing and receiving. At the core of this project is also the goal of developing enlightened athletes, and informed citizens, by assisting non-Aboriginal people in better understanding Aboriginal people, their culture and the barriers they are facing. In developing this awareness, in January 2006, the team was presented with a Grandfather Wood Bison by Chief Harvey Nepinak. Since then, the entire Bison Women’s Basketball team has participated in a sweat and traditional Buffalo teachings.
“The collaboration between the Skownan First Nation community and the Bison Women’s Basketball team is a realization of True Sport,” says Victor Lachance, executive director of the True Sport Foundation. “We create opportunities for people to work together through sport to make positive changes in their lives and their communities.”
The True Sport Community Fund is administered by the True Sport Foundation – one of Canada’s leading charitable organizations committed to the belief that sport makes a powerful, positive, contribution to the development of individuals, communities, and Canadian society. For more information about the fund, visit www.truesport.ca/tsfund The next deadline for applications is May 31, 2008.
For further information: Rosemary Pitfield, Director of Communications, Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, (613) 521-3340 ext. 3236, (613) 355-0889, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.cces.ca; Fairy Wong, Apinochek Pasaquok Project Manager Career Trek Inc., (204) 474-9558, email@example.com, http://xnet.rrc.mb.ca/careertrek/
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