Indigenous Sports Academy offers intensive hockey training, culture & school
- NC Raine | October 15, 2021
Fifteen-year-old hockey player Alex Crowe-Nippi had been hoping to find an opportunity to accelerate his athletics career. He found Saskatoon’s new Indigenous Sports Academy, which does exactly that, while also pushing personal and academic development.
“It's been really good. Most of us come from different places all over, so it's been good meeting people and learning where they are from,” said Crowe-Nippi, who comes from Rose Valley, Saskatchewan.
“It's been demanding. (Trying to balance) homework and hockey. But yeah, I think it’s brought the best out in us,” he said.
The new Indigenous Sports Academy (ISA) is modelled after similar programs across Canada that provide student athletes with high level coaching, elite training and academics that adjust to their training schedules.
“We want, most of all, to make sure they are growing as young men,” said founding director Courage Bear of Ochapowace First Nation.
“Sports gives a lot and it's important to provide opportunities for these young people to develop as athletes, but we want to make sure they all go away from this being better people.”
In its inaugural year, the Saskatoon-based ISA Eagles program is comprised of 19 student athletes, aged 15 to 17, from Saskatchewan, Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba. Out of town members are billeted.
The team is not in a league, but Bear hopes they will enter the Canadian Sport School Hockey League in the future. Until then, they plan to participate in AA tournaments, exhibition games and showcase tournaments.
The academy is funded through registration fees, fundraising projects and sponsorships from four Saskatchewan First Nations: Kahkewistahaw, Lac La Ronge, Ochapowace, and Flying Dust.
Culture is a key component of the program, Bear said.
“Culture is so important. We've already brought Elders out to talk with the team, so we're just trying to create a sense of comfort, self-esteem, and confidence in them. You see some of the kids are shy at first but start to come out of their shell,” said Bear.
Crowe-Nippi says he is being exposed to more Indigenous cultures since joining the academy.
“A lot of it is new. Some of the words my teammates say, the languages they can speak, it's different. Some of them talk about their culture a lot,” he said.
The boys attend City Park Collegiate in Saskatoon, which has a flex program that accommodates their heavy training commitments, Bear said.
They attend classes in the morning, then leave for practice and training over the noon hour to the early afternoon. They are then bussed from the training facility to school for the remainder of the afternoon. Families back home get weekly email updates on their kids’ studies and training progress.
Bear said he'd like to expand the program to include a girls’ team in the future and possibly other sports as well.
“It's about a process of maturing, developing that core sense of self. The program isn't just about athletics,” Bear said.
“There's a lot of kids out there that just need a chance, an opportunity. There's a lot of talent in our communities. With this program, they can get a sense of family, a sense of comfort because it's all Indigenous kids. I was raised with mentors, so I think it's important to do whatever you can to give back.”