Simonds Varsity Girls

The Simonds Seabees Varsity Girls, pictured here, will play the Chief Allison Bernard Memorial High School team from Eskasoni First Nation on Saturday. (Courtesy Jason Peters)

A high school basketball game in Saint John this Saturday is aiming to build ties between First Nations and non-First Nations communities.

Simonds High School is hosting the inaugural Nation2Nation Varsity Girls challenge against the Chief Allison Bernard Memorial High School from Eskasoni First Nation, in Cape Breton.

Jason Peters coaches the Simonds Seabees varsity girls and organized the event to foster a greater cultural understanding at the school.

"The Mi'kmaq and Maliseet were the original people of the area and aboriginal people are the fastest growing demographic in Canada, and a lot of people don't know that. So it's important that we develop these relationships now," Peters said in an interview on Information Morning Saint John.

"Sport is the ultimate equalizer, so [I thought] that would be a really nice venue to have these competitions take place."

Peters, who is Mi'kmaq, says he already combines Mi'kmaq teachings into the team's practices. The players learned the Mi'kmaq honour song, as well as some Mi'kmaq history and language.

"We incorporate a bit of a warrior mentality where we don't give up. We could be down by 40 or 50 points and we're still coming at the other team," said Peters.

"Much like in life you're faced with ups and downs, so it's really important if you have a goal that you stick to it, and you try to perform your best to get to that goal."

Community perspective

Peters says his cultural background also influences the way he coaches. Rather than approach the game at a win-at-all-costs perspective, he makes a point to put all his players on the court.

"I think it's more of a community perspective … I think they come out knowing they may not be the strongest ball player in the world, but at least they're going to learn over the season by actually having floor time," he said.

"It's one thing to learn in practice, it's another to test your skills during a game."

The Nation2Nation challenge starts at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Peters says the money will go to the Eskasoni team's travel expenses. Any additional funds raised from admissions will be split between the two schools and be used to fund a scholarship.

"My goal is to have a tournament next year where we're able to bring in three or four different First Nations high schools from around the region and hopefully be able to provide scholarships with the money we make off this," he said.

"I can think of no better way to end the season for both teams than with a positive, culturally based competition that would be a great learning opportunity for all."