Alwyn Morris from Kahnawake holds his Eagle Feather at the 1984 Olympics where he won gold and bronze medals.

Alwyn Morris from Kahnawake holds his Eagle Feather at the 1984 Olympics where he won gold and bronze medals.

By Laura Robinson
OTTAWA – A reactivated Alwyn Morris, a Mohawk from Kahnawake, and the Canadian Sport For Life Society announced the Aboriginal Long Term Participation Development pathway this week at a gathering of over 500 people committed to sport for everyone.

The occasion was the annual Sport For Life http://canadiansportforlife.ca/events/CS4L-Summit conference in Ottawa where Morris, a gold and bronze medalist in kayaking at the 1984 Olympics, told his story of being a member of the Turtle Clan—a clan of helpers, and of being an Olympian. It’s a story that took him around the world, built through his passion for who he is as a Mohawk warrior and what he knew he could realize in terms of athletic ability. Few will forget seeing him hold the eagle feather high as he stood on the Olympic podium in Los Angeles, (though Morris says he remembers little, given the intensity of it all). But it’s been the journey after his golden success that has mattered most to First Nations.

Alwyn crisscrossed Turtle Island to be with young people and encourage their dreams in sport for many years. He created, along with many other sport leaders, the Aboriginal Sport Circle, an organization he hopes to catalyze again.

During Morris’ years in Aboriginal communities he would tell children if he could make it to the Olympics, so could they. But he admits he’s known for a long time being encouraged by a star athlete isn’t the answer.

This isn’t a ‘one off’ said Morris in his workshop on long term participation development. “I have to admit, I have been guilty of this too, of people coming in and they do a great stint for two months and then you never see them again. You’ve actually killed any enthusiasm you developed in those kids.”

Well meaning actions can actually be cruel says Morris because when the coach or instructor leaves, they take the great sports equipment and often programming with them and in doing so dash so many hopes. Whatever the program is, everyone involved, says Morris and his counterparts at Sport For Life, has to commit for the “long term” just as the Long Term Aboriginal Participation manual advises. To download, please see: http://canadiansportforlife.ca/sites/default/files/resources/AS4L-LTPD-Outline%20August%202014_EN.pdf

Despite Morris’ enthusiasm for this new “pathway” he’s seen it all before. “We had the Standing Committee on Sport, the Dubin Inquiry, the Cal Best Report, and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples” said Morris of the reams of reports he says literally “studied people to death” during his keynote address later in the day. “I would have liked to think that those papers would have made an impact, but they didn’t.”

The difference today, hopefully, is that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made his government’s relationship with Aboriginal people their number one priority, committed to fulfilling all of the “Calls to Action” within the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report. Both Morris and Richard Lay, CEO of Sport For Life believe the manual actually is “ahead of the curve” when it comes to the TRC because it reflected the Calls to Action before they came out.

Morris read those Calls to Action one by one from the speaker’s podium:

Sports and Reconciliation

87. We call upon all levels of government, in collaboration
with Aboriginal peoples, sports halls of fame, and other
relevant organizations, to provide public education that
tells the national story of Aboriginal athletes in history.

88. We call upon all levels of government to take action to
ensure long-term Aboriginal athlete development and
growth, and continued support for the North American
Indigenous Games, including funding to host the games
and for provincial and territorial team preparation and
travel.

89. We call upon the federal government to amend the
Physical Activity and Sport Act to support reconciliation
by ensuring that policies to promote physical activity as
a fundamental element of health and well-being, reduce
barriers to sports participation, increase the pursuit of
excellence in sport, and build capacity in the Canadian
sport system, are inclusive of Aboriginal peoples.

90. We call upon the federal government to ensure that
national sports policies, programs, and initiatives are
inclusive of Aboriginal peoples, including, but not
limited to, establishing:
i. In collaboration with provincial and territorial
governments, stable funding for, and access to,
community sports programs that reflect the diverse
cultures and traditional sporting activities of
Aboriginal peoples.
ii. An elite athlete development program for Aboriginal
athletes.
iii. Programs for coaches, trainers, and sports officials
that are culturally relevant for Aboriginal peoples.
iv. Anti-racism awareness and training programs.

91. We call upon the officials and host countries of
international sporting events such as the Olympics,
Pan Am, and Commonwealth games to ensure that
Indigenous peoples’ territorial protocols are respected,
and local Indigenous communities are engaged in all
aspects of planning and participating.

In the spirit of the TRC Report and the Seven Teachings, Morris continued, “We need to do things that will last beyond ourselves. We need help in encouraging the support of the document and the recommendations within. That resource is a way for which we can all move forward.”

Much of the move forward Morris referred to needs to come from the federal Ministry of Sport through long-term funding and commitments. That means the new Minister of Sport Carla Qualtrough, will need an equal commitment to the Mandate Letter sent to her by Justin Trudeau when he named her to the post. The Prime Minister wrote, “No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples. It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.”

Minister Qualtrough also spoke at the Sport For Life conference and told Anishinabek News, “I have seen firsthand how sport can be a powerful vehicle to support the development of individuals and communities. The Aboriginal Sport for Life resource that has been developed in strong partnership with Aboriginal communities will be instrumental in helping quality physical activity and sport programs reach Aboriginal children and youth, including those who wish to progress in the Canadian sport system, from coast to coast to coast.”

But it’s a long way from feel good conferences to the realities in communities. Morris told the story of a girl in one of the communities he visited when he was on the road telling young people to believe in their dreams, while he knew at best that was a quick band-aid. “When it was time to go everyone came out and hugged us, but there was this one girl who continued to hug me; I knew she didn’t want to let go. Her hand came down my arm and eventually over my hand, her fingers slowly slid over mine. I will never forget her, and I often wonder what happened to that girl? Did she make it? Did I bring false hope? What was I doing going somewhere, bringing in expertise and equipment, having fun for three days and then leaving and that’s it? I’ve done that. After that I committed to myself that would never happen again. I hope we have the willingness that turns to action. I too hope I can live up to the responsibilities of men from the Turtle Clan.”