Northern SK coach makes an impact beyond the track
- Angela Hill | June 03, 2018
Many youth across northern Saskatchewan know Jordyn Burnouf and when they see her, it’s all smiles.
In fact, with Saskatchewan Aboriginal Track and Field (SaskATF), Burnouf has directly coached about 80 kids and oversaw the training programs of far more.
“It makes me feel very, very fortunate to be able to impact kids in that way,” said the 27-year-old.
By day she works in cultural and community engagement at Northlands College in La Ronge and the rest of the time she is organizing track and field meets, peer-based training clinics, and chatting with the rest of the SaskATF team.
“We’ve been slowly but surely building the sport up over the past 10 years, it’s been incredible,” Burnouf said.
Burnouf’s love for track and field started when she was in a Kindergarten gym class in Ile a la Crosse. The passion grew from there, and Burnouf went on to win awards and medals for long jump, triple jump, running, and javelin, including two golds at the North American Indigenous Games in 2008.
Her talent and excitement for the sport was noticed by her coach Derek Pope and he invited Burnouf to join the SaskATF board. She and other youth talked about what track and field should look like for Indigenous youth in Saskatchewan.
There was no looking back. After graduating high school Burnouf became an assistant coach for the North American Indigenous Games Saskatchewan team, then she became the head coach.
“I think I was one of the first head coaches of women,” she said.
SaskATF started organizing clinics for remote communities that might not get access to any coaching or to the range of sport track and field offered, Burnouf said. The University of Saskatchewan Huskies track and field team members joined.
“It was great to have the student athlete mentorship for the younger kids,” she said. “We’ve built a community that is super supportive … a network of people that are there for you.”
The support is not just there for the athletics but also to help tackle the barriers that prevent youth from getting into athletics, Burnouf said.
“It’s started to bridge the gap between Aboriginal communities and the sport.”
Burnouf says that mentorship is the most important part of her work. Among Burnouf’s mentors she mentions her former coach Pope as well as Jocelyn Chandler a physio therapist who encouraged Burnouf and other youth to learn to swim and train as lifeguards (the Ile-A-La-Crosse aquatic and fitness centre is named after her). Pope, in particular, played a significant role in Burnouf staying in sport and in university, Burnouf said.
“To have that support and to have those people there helping me, makes a world of difference … that’s why I always pay if forward because I know the positive impact it had on my life,” she said. “I really have to pay tribute to those incredible people in my life.”
And through coaching Burnouf sees the positive cycle continue, as youth she has coached are coming forward to become coaches themselves.
“It just becomes a sustainable cycle, then you can step away and people keep doing it on their own,” she said.
Burnouf not all about track
Along with Saskatchewan Aboriginal Track and Field, Jordyn Burnouf has a lead role in coordinating Vibrant Roots, a two-day conference for northern youth happening May 16 and 17.
Students from communities across the north are invited to attend workshops, cultural sessions, and be exposed to the great work that people from their communities are doing.
“It’s a time when students can learn about culture, education and leadership,” Burnouf said.
The idea is to encourage northern youth to pursue their goals.
“Think outside the box, think about that one thing you would love to do and you can do it,” she said.
This is the second year of the conference and will include sessions on jigging and powwow dancing, youth parliament, environmental sustainability, and discussion on culture with Elders.
Of note, Burnouf says the artists Snotty Nose Rez Kids are coming from Vancouver.
“They are going to be able to talk in a way that will reach kids,” she said.
Organizers are expecting about 300 youth to attend. Burnouf says she sees the youth come together over the two days and last year’s closing ceremony was amazing.
“The Round Dance was incredible, it was so powerful,” she said, all the youth felt it and all of them eventually joined in.