'It's unreal': Saskatoon Indigenous sports academy first of its kind in Canada
SASKATOON -- The Indigenous Sports Academy is a first-of-its-kind program that has taken root in Saskatoon and includes Indigenous hockey players from across the country.
Founding director Courage Bear, from Ochapowace First Nation, says his community had an academy and they wanted to expand on it.
“Create another where we had teams within the academy, so we just kind of went out to three other First Nations to see if they were interested in partnering, and thankfully they were,” he said.
The academy, funded by donations, sponsorship and participant fees, is billed as a high performance hockey academy focused on providing Indigenous youth with a unique academic and athletic experience.
The ISA Eagles will primarily play in showcase events against other academies.
The U-18 team consists mostly of players from western Canada staying with billet families in Saskatoon, but players like Amos Kejick have travelled from Ontario to play.
“I got a text from Courage saying ‘Come try out, come for a skate,’” he said.
Kejick is one of five players staying with Bear on his acreage outside Saskatoon.
“We really enjoy the company, we want to give them a good environment to live in,” said Bear.
“It's unreal,” said Bear’s son Coen. “He was talking about it a little bit and I thought it was a great idea. I didn’t know I’d be able to become a part of it, so it's a really fun experience and hopefully they can keep on building on this.”
The 17-year-old says the academy makes him proud of his Indigenous heritage.
“All my friends wanted to become a part of this as well. We're the first team out of all these guys, so hopefully he can keep on doing it for years and years to come.”
“It's just a place where our kids can come and [we’ll] provide them with an opportunity to achieve obviously athletic excellence, but academically,” said Bear.
“Support them and make sure they're achieving in the classroom, but also developing as young men. And I think create a bit of a sense of comfort for them, you know everybody of the same background.”
Bear says he hopes to see the program expand to include several different sports, as well as different genders.
“We want to add another team next year, whether that's a male or female team, we’re looking at a female program,” he said.
“Then looking at other sports. We want to, again, just create an environment where Indigenous kids can come and get top notch coaching, can go to good schooling, and get exposed to higher level competition.
“Longer term, I mean hopefully it grows to where it's more than a handful of sports, and there’s kids from all over.”