Power of sports: Why the North American Indigenous Games matter

Derek Fox, an Anishinaabe lawyer and former semi-pro hockey player, writes that participation in sports is nurturing a new generation of First Nation leaders.

Sport is bringing up a new generation of First Nation leaders, says Derek Fox

Long jumper Quaid Robinson of Team Saskatchewan wins the gold medal at the 2014 North American Indigenous Games in Regina. Former semi-pro hockey player Derek Fox says sports will help to build the next generation of aboriginal leadership. (Peter Scoular)

Derek Fox, from the Bearskin Lake First Nation, is an Anishinaabe lawyer currently living in Thunder Bay, Ont. As a young boy, he found strength and comfort on the outdoor rink and spent every winter night skating in an imaginary Stanley Cup final. Fox went on to have a successful career in major junior and semi-pro hockey.

I left home at a young age, home being Bearskin Lake, Ont. A playground for God’s children, a piece of land wedged between snake-shaped rivers, deep lakes with mystery wandering its bottoms, and a wildlife content with providing our stories.

Like a child taken from his family, a part of me lost something when I was taken from my land. It’s a way of life I will need to re-learn. However, I left with a knowledge in sports that can be taught no other way except to play.

I was given a chance to play a game that found a heartbeat within me, revitalizing a spirit of broken generations, a breath of fresh air found in the cold air and rinks I was immersed in.

Hockey was a resurrection, it taught me the feeling of pain, hurt, love, insecurity, confidence, adversity, teamwork, knowledge, discipline, and dedication — valuable principles that built a foundation of success.

It also allowed me to form friendships and bonds I would not have found elsewhere. It was a bridge between my world and that of others.

Derek Fox is an Anishinaabe lawyer and a former semi-pro hockey player. (Derek Fox)
I once played with a guy from Miramichi, N.B., who admitted that before he met me he didn’t like Indians and that I was the first one he met. His father was a lobster fisherman in the Burnt Church dispute. We became best friends and backed each other up on the ice more than once. I don’t know who was tougher between us, but I know we grew to love and respect each other, which in turn changed his outlook on my people.

I played with a guy from Humboldt, Sask., a red-headed quiet fellow who took me for dinner one night and admitted to me he was half-native. He showed me his mom’s status card — a beautiful Plains Cree woman, smiling at me a painful smile, telling me stories through her son, a son who loved and missed her.

He carried her status card in his wallet all his life, looking at it daily, reminded of who he was, praying for strength to be proud — a prayer often unanswered, one he needed my help with. He is one of many I remember from my journey.

The power of sport is like the power of prayer, it is like the power of the land, it is a seed planted in the heart and soul of those who engage. It expresses itself through the spirit of our children and our youth who will become leaders not just of tomorrow, but now.

Whether it be hockey, golf, baseball, basketball or swimming, sports is a lesson in growth, teamwork and overcoming adversity with hard work. It is a necessary instrument in the development of a nation, much like education. It needs to be harnessed, encouraged and supported by all people of all ages, native and non-native, those who believe in a better society and better country.

So as I hear about the many little warriors fighting for gold at the North American Indigenous Games in Regina, I am proud, knowing some Bearskin Lakers, Shoal Lakers, Treaty 9’ers and Treaty 3’ers are competing.

But most of all, I am proud because an entire generation of leaders are developing principles so valuable they cannot be explained. We can only wait to see the outcome.

Our only duty as their guardians is to promote and encourage, then watch them flourish, a revolution of leaders developed through the power of sport.

This blog post was originally published on Derek Fox’s blog. It has been edited for length and style and republished with the permission of the author.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?