Katrina Haintz was 38 years old before she finally felt proud of her Indigenous heritage.

She credits the North American Indigenous Games — which are currently underway in Toronto — for the shift.

Haintz attended the 2014 NAIG events in Regina with her two eldest daughters and said the experience motivated her to begin working with Indigenous youth.

"Seeing high-achieving athletes and these amazing, beautiful families connecting with the culture and the spiritual aspects of it, I have never been so proud to be Aboriginal in my entire life," she said.

Rewarding career switch

Her experience as an unofficial parent volunteer in Regina inspired her to make a career shift when she got home to B.C. where she was running a pest control company at the time.

Within months of speaking with her local school district, Haintz transitioned into the role of Aboriginal youth support worker in Maple Ridge, B.C.

Now she works with families that have had similar experiences to her own and said the best part of the job is helping them get in touch with their own culture.

"Families who were in situations like I was: not believing in their culture, maybe being afraid to say it," she said.  

"When you can ... help out another family in the way that I was helped at the games, it's so rewarding," she told Stephen Quinn, guest host of CBC's The Early Edition.

naig medal

After attending the North American Indigenous games in 2014 as a parent, Katrina Haintz made a major career switch to become an Aborignal youth support worker and now manages Team. B.C.'s athletics and track and field team. (CBC)

Indigenous pride

This year the Canadian team includes a contingent of athletes under the banner Team 88, referring to the 88th of 94 calls to action put forth by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015.

The 88th call to action refers specifically to all levels of government and recommends continued support for NAIG events and teams.

For Haintz, sport has been a gateway to reconciliation. She is now the manager of Team B.C.'s athletic team.

"My entire life I was really sort of sheltered from my Aboriginal background. I wasn't really able to tell people or speak of it," said Haintz.

She used to tell people she was Spanish or anything but First Nations, but that's changed. 

"I'm proud. I am absolutely proud to say that I'm First Nations. Why all these years have I not been?"

Haintz is a member of the Hwlitsum First Nation, which recently lost a complex legal battle for financial damages and an attempt to establish traditional land title in the B.C. Supreme Court.

She sees the benefits of having nation-wide Indigenous specific sporting events in her own children; this year three of Haintz's daughters will compete in athletics (track and field) at NAIG.

"They see possibilities, they see dreams. They go to these events and they realize they can be so much more," she said.

With files from CBC Radio One's The Early Edition