Fourteen of Canada’s greatest and most influential Indigenous athletes will forever be honoured as the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame announced Monday (Aug. 9) the release of the Indigenous Sport Heroes Education Experience.
Provided at no cost to educators across Canada, the digital book will spotlight each athlete’s origins, history in sports, accomplishments and how they converted their athletic prowess to doing good in their communities.
“Arguably, this is one of the most important initiatives for the Canada Sports Hall of Fame,” said president and CEO Cheryl Bernard said.
One advantage of the exhibition’s digital-first aspect is that, unlike a physical book, more content can be added over time.
Some of the athletes featured are Tom Longboat, Sharon and Shirley Firth and Chief Wilton (Willie) Littlechild.
Longboat was a distance runner from the Six Nations Grand River reserve in Ontario and considered by other runners of the time as one of the greatest marathoners in history. In 1951, two years after he passed, the Tom Longboat award was established to recognize aboriginal athletes that “demonstrate outstanding contributions to sport in Canada.”
The award is presented annually to one male and one female athlete regionally, with a national winner selected among the regional winners. National winners have their names added to the Longboat trophy which is displayed in the Hall of Fame in Calgary.
Littlechild, born in Hobbema (now Maskwacis) Alberta, is a lawyer and Cree chief, previously having been a member of Canadian parliament as well as a multi-sport athlete in hockey, swimming, football and baseball. He holds the distinction of being one of only a few people to have won multiple Tom Longboat awards, first in 1967 and again in 1974.
Littlechild helped found the North American Indigenous Games and has long been an advocate for the World Indigenous Games.
Twins Sharon and Shirley Firth share the honour of being the first Indigenous women inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015.
Born in Aklavik, N.W.T., the two started skiing while attending residential school, with Sharon saying it “really opened our mind and heart to knowing we were in a great sport we really loved and weren’t beaten up in.”
Sharon was headstrong about her message to young kids throughout Canada: “Follow your dreams … don’t be fearful. There are always going to be obstacles you have to overcome. Never give up, hang in there, regardless of what happens … whether it’s sports, arts, music, drama, painting, don’t limit yourself.”
The book is being launched as a part of a 10-year initiative to highlight Indigenous athletes throughout Canadian history.
The digital book can be found here, with educational activities launching in September.
A physical exhibit could be launched in Calgary as soon as 2023.
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