11-year-old Winnipegger wins scholarship from U.S. non-profit that promotes diversity in hockey

A young female hockey player in Winnipeg has been awarded a scholarship not only for her prowess on the ice, but for being a leader off of it, too.

Canari Yonas was nominated by her coach for being a good student, teammate and community leader

Canari Yonas, an 11-year-old hockey player originally from eastern Africa, is thinking of putting her scholarship money toward hockey camps and a Dustin Byfuglien Winnipeg Jets jersey. (Twitter/Black Girl Hockey Club)

A young female hockey player in Winnipeg has been awarded a scholarship not only for her prowess on the ice, but for being a leader off of it, too.

Canari Yonas, an 11-year-old who plays defence, won a scholarship worth $1,000 from the Black Girl Hockey Club, a non-profit in the U.S. dedicated to advocating for more Black women in hockey. The scholarship is given annually to Black girls and women between nine and 18 years old to help them pursue hockey — a predominantly white sport.

"I was shocked and super excited," said Yonas about when she found out she won the scholarship.

"My family posted it and everything, and there were so many people that commented and texted and called, and they were saying congratulations."

Yonas's family is originally from Eritrea, a country on the coast of eastern Africa. Yonas started playing hockey when she was in Grade 3, and enjoys it because it's fun and she can make friends whenever she's on the ice.

Janelle Forcand, female hockey coordinator for the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Academy, was coaching Yonas during a hockey camp last summer, shortly after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., and amid the rallies that ensued.

That's when Forcand saw the 11-year-old become a teacher and leader for the rest of her teammates.

"Obviously, kids have questions and comments and whatnot. These uncomfortable conversations were directed to Canari," she said. "She's able to just have these respectful conversations — these conversations normally even adults shy away from — and Canari just doesn't look for an argument.

"Her peers, they really listen to her and resonate with her, and they understand. It's just remarkable for an 11-year-old girl to be able to have these conversations in a proper way."

One particular conversation revolved around the phrase "All Lives Matter," which many people argue undermines the Black Lives Matter message by discounting the disproportionate racism that Black people face. Yonas acknowledged that all lives do matter, but before that becomes a true reality, Black lives cannot continue to be treated worse systemically than others, Forcand said.

Forcand nominated Yonas for the Black Girl Hockey Club scholarship after watching the young girl handle that situation. But having coached her for two years now, she also knows Yonas is a leader in the classroom, supportive of her teammates on the ice and presents herself as a role model in the community.

"It was a no-brainer that she deserved something like this," Forcand said.

Black Girl Hockey Club offers four scholarships ranging from $500 to $5,000. They are handed out three times per year, according to the non-profit's website.

Yonas hopes to see more Black girls playing hockey in the future. (Radio-Canada Archive)

The $1,000 scholarship is meant to go toward equipment, the site says. But Yonas hopes some of it could be put toward a hockey camp or a Dustin Byfuglien Winnipeg Jets jersey.

Looking at the big picture, though, the 11-year-old hopes to see more hockey players that look like her hitting the ice.

"It'd be really good, because when you watch hockey, you sometimes don't even see girls. But you also don't see other Black girls," said Yonas.

Forcand echoed that, saying the game has grown so much already for girls and women, and now it's ready to grow again to include more people from other backgrounds and cultures.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.

With files from Wendy Jane Parker and Marcy Markusa