University of Winnipeg Wesmen athletes honoured indigenous culture on Saturday by starting a basketball game with a traditional prayer and smudge by an elder.

It was all in an effort to build a relationship between the university's indigenous student body and the athletics department.

The women's and men's Wesmen teams took on the Brandon Bobcats in back-to-back games, which included dance and song by some of Canada's Indigenous Peoples.

Skylar Boulanger plays on the women's team at the University of Winnipeg and she told CBC it's the first time she's seen indigenous culture being honoured in sports at the school.

Skylar Boulanger

Skylar Boulanger said as a youth, she was told "no" a number of times, but she persisted until she reached her goal of becoming a Wesmen athlete at the University of Winnipeg. She wants indigenous youth to do the same by following their dreams. (CBC)

"It just makes me proud to be indigenous and playing in the game," she said.

Boulanger said the participation of the university's Aboriginal Student Services Centre and sports programming is important on a systemic level, outside of the impact Saturday's game had on her personally.

"I think it's important because it builds a strong relationship between the centre and the sports program," she said, noting she goes to the student centre on a daily basis to study.

"It's really neat to see the University of Winnipeg sports centre and the aboriginal centre connected because it opens up opportunities for aboriginal youth also to get involved in sports."

While Boulanger said she has not personally faced challenges as an indigenous youth in university sports, her message for fellow indigenous youth is to persist in the face of obstacles.

"When I was a young girl, my parents used to always take me to watch Wesmen games and I just remember coming down and getting Wesmen players' autographs all the time," she said.

"It just makes me proud that I was able to follow my dream of becoming a university player, and I just want you guys, aboriginal youth, to know always follow your dreams, no matter how many times you're told no."