11-year-old wins hockey prize and hopes more Black girls join her on the ice

Story by CBC Kids News • Published 2020-11-17 08:00

‘I feel unique, but then I also feel kind of lonely,’ Winnipeg girl says

Canari Yonas says she wants to “live on the ice forever.”

And thanks to a new scholarship, her dream is one step closer to becoming a reality.

In October, the 11-year-old from Winnipeg won a $1,000 prize from the Black Girl Hockey Club, which is a non-profit organization based in the U.S.

Canari’s win came after her coach, Janelle Forcand, nominated her for the award, which is handed out three times a year.

The point of the scholarship is to give Black girls a boost in a sport that doesn’t often make room for them, and has been accused of racism — even at the professional level.

Coach Janelle Forcand, left, during a practice camp with Canari Yonas, right. (Image credit: True North Youth Foundation/YouTube)

Canari’s leadership

In a CBC interview, Forcand said Canari’s leadership skills surfaced this summer at a hockey camp, soon after the death of George Floyd and during the Black Lives Matter protests that followed.

Her coach said she noticed how Canari was able to handle important conversations with her teammates about anti-Black racism.

“You can't say that all races are equal,” Canari said, when “you're treating one of them lower than all the others.”

Canari told CBC Kids News she felt empowered after talking to her teammates about how to fight racism.

When asked how she feels at the end of a practise, Canari said: ‘I want to play hockey forever. I don't want to get inside the car and go home.’ (Image credit: True North Youth Foundation/YouTube)

“They understood,” she said. “It made me feel happy because I was teaching them something.”

When professional athletes began protesting in the name of the Black Lives Matter movement, Canari was paying attention.

She said things like walkouts allowed more people to understand the issue and join the fight to end anti-Black racism in sports.

More Black girls on the ice

Canari, whose family is originally from the East African country of Eritrea, said she wants to see more Black girls on the ice.

She remembers being told that hockey is a “white sport” and that not many Black girls play when she started playing a few years ago.

Canari is still the only Black girl on her team.

“I feel unique, but then I also feel kind of lonely,” she said.

Canari wasn’t confident she would get the scholarship since ‘so many people applied.’ (Image credit: True North Youth Foundation/YouTube)

Canari said she wants to encourage other Black girls to try the sport not only because it’s super fun, but because their involvement will “make hockey even better.”

She hopes Black girls will one day say: “‘Oh I wanted to play hockey because of Canari.’”

Plans for the future

Canari hopes to use the scholarship money to pay for more training camps and even a jersey honouring her favourite player (Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets!)

Although she isn’t sure she wants to go pro, Canari said she does want to continue in the sport.

Canari plays defence and loves to protect the goalie against shots on the net. (Image credit: True North Youth Foundation/YouTube)

She also hopes to teach some basic lessons along the way:

“If you want people to be kind to you, then you have to be kind to other people and show them respect so that you can be respected, too,” Canari said.

With files from CBC Manitoba
TOP IMAGE CREDIT: True North Youth Foundation/YouTube

Was this story worth reading?