Gazing upon several banners for inductees of the Mi’kmaq Sports Hall of Fame, Sara-Lynne Knockwood smiled and stuttered upon spotting herself within that group.
The former taekwondo star, who was one of the first inductees into the hall of fame in 2016, doesn’t get the chance to see her banner often. There is no permanent location for the hall. Instead, the banners travel to different events celebrating Mi’kmaw athletics.
Knockwood and others have that chance this week as the Saint Mary’s University Huskies athletic teams host Indigenous Sport Week. The week began on Wednesday with two basketball games. It’s the first time the athletic department has organized this event.
“It was truly an honour to even be considered for [induction], let alone being in the first group inducted,” said Knockwood, from Sipekne’katik First Nation.
Knockwood’s banner was one of 22 on display at SMU’s Homburg Centre, featuring biographies of every inductee. At age 16, she won gold medals in her competitions at the 2002 North American Indigenous Games and the World Open Championships Taekwondo International in Miami.
She said the Mi’kmaq Sports Hall of Fame is key for telling the stories of Mi’kmaw athletes, but more opportunities exist for it. One idea is a permanent location.
“It’s important to be able to celebrate Indigenous athletes, be able to hear their stories and to understand the things they did to help make that connection with the community,” Knockwood said.
Indigenous contribution to sport
The display is one of the week’s events. At Wednesday’s games, players wore orange shirts reading Every Child Matters during warmups and Indigenous songs and dances were performed, both to bring awareness to the Canadian residential school system’s legacy.
Games on Friday and Saturday will bring attention to more issues Indigenous people face. For instance, the hockey games on Saturday will address racism in sport.
Ryan Francis, an Indigenous research fellow at SMU and one of the week’s organizers, said the week is one way sports can bring attention to the conversation around truth and reconciliation. He cited the five sports-related calls in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action.
“It’s recognizing the contributions that Indigenous people, specifically here in Mi’kma’ki, have made to sport,” Francis said. “There are other different initiatives that bring attention to these conversations and matters through sport, which is a really cool way to engage with the broader community.”
Aiyanna Empringham, a member of the Huskies women’s basketball team, said recognizing Indigenous role models is essential for younger athletes. She is Métis.
“It’s good to have those people that you can see in higher roles that keep going. Normally we don’t have people like that,” Empringham said. She mentioned Knockwood and other Mi’kmaq Sports Hall of Fame inductees as role models.
The Huskies host Indigenous Sport Week with just over seven months to go until the 2023 North American Indigenous Games in Nova Scotia. The university will host basketball, lacrosse and wrestling competitions. Knockwood and Francis are involved in organizing the games.
Leading up to the games, Knockwood said it’s huge that sports organizations are taking steps to help create awareness of Indigenous athletes’ contributions. She hopes it’s just one tool in greater public education about Indigenous culture and heritage.
“Now that there’s awareness of stories, take those next steps to really begin to learn,” Knockwood said. “When you start to learn about the histories, stories and treaties, you really start to understand. That’s when reconciliation can start taking action.”
About the author
Luke Dyment is a Halifax-based reporter from Prince Edward Island. He has written for the Globe and Mail, The Signal and the Dalhousie Gazette....