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Saskatchewan gymnestrada team practices reconciliation through sport

Saskatchewan’s team is made up of 52 members ranging from under 10-years-old to those over 60. Saskatchewan’s team is made up of 52 members ranging from under 10-years-old to those over 60.
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A Saskatchewan team of gymnasts is bringing a message of truth and reconciliation to one of the largest multicultural gymnastics events in the world.

The team is gearing up for World Gymnestrada in Amsterdam this summer, an event that gathers as many as twenty thousand participants from 60 different countries.

Saskatchewan’s team is made up of 52 members ranging from under 10-years-old to those over 60.

This year is the first time a team is incorporating Indigenous traditions and culture to their routine.

“We’re really excited to bring a new form of performance to this international stage,” said co-coach Julie LeVasseur. “And this will be the first time that pow wow is featured at World Gymnestrada, which is in about seven months.”

The theme of this year’s routine is “Co-creating Community.” With input and collaboration with members and elders of Peepeekisis First Nation, it’s an opportunity for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous neighbours to share cultural teachings and experiences they may not otherwise be exposed to.

“That’s something that they would never get to do if we didn’t have a venue like this,” said Lianne Bird, an elder from Peepeekisis First Nation.

“You don’t just pack up and go to Amsterdam, you don’t pack up and go to London; things like that. So we’re really hoping that this has an educational component for them.”

Some of the younger pow wow dancers were surprised to learn that they wouldn’t be driving to this event.

“They are getting excited,” said Bird. “Especially one of them who found out we’re going over the ocean. I was asked if we could drive there, and I said, well, no, I think we have to take a plane. So then we started looking on a map for where we are going.”

On top of the excitement of this competition that only comes once every four years, there are ample opportunities to engage with the international community and share the message of reconciliation.

“What we are super excited about is that we can actually just drop in the middle of downtown Amsterdam Square with a drum, and invite people from across the world to come and participate with us in round dance,” said co-coach Kara Thorpe.

LeVasseur wants to use sport as a vehicle for reconciliation.

“Gymnastics is our opportunity to start that work and to do that learning,” said LeVasseur. “Especially around truth and reconciliation. And you don’t normally think of sport as a place to practise that, but we strongly disagree. Sport is exactly the place where reconciliation needs to live, and needs to be practised.”

The 2023 World Gymnestrada in Amsterdam runs from July 30 to Aug. 5.

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