Indigenous Engagement at the World Championships

Adapted from an article by Eve Cable for The Eastern Door.

The sound of 62 members of the Kahnawake Figure Skating Club (KFSC) gasping as world champion skaters backflipped on the ice at the Bell Centre filled local coach Bethany Douglas with pride as she reflected on the efforts being made to make her sport more accessible.

“It’s really meaningful and kind of emotional to see. We grew up with our skating club, and now we’re teaching the next generation,” said Douglas, who said skaters from ages three to 17 are involved with the club. “This is something skaters got to experience that they’d never seen before. And hopefully events like this will keep encouraging new skaters. The future is very bright.”

Located just outside of Montreal, the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory is a First Nations reserve of the Mohawks of Kahnawá:ke. The KFSC and other members of the Kahnawake community were invited to attend the International Skating Union (ISU) 2024 World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal in March 2024 as part of Skate Canada’s efforts to advance truth and reconciliation through sport.

In the three months leading up to the World Championships, Skate Canada worked to establish a meaningful relationship with the Kahnawake community. This included visiting the reservation to perform a tobacco offering – a traditional protocol when making an initial request in working with an Elder or Knowledge Keeper. Konwatsitsawi Meloche, an Elder, said that Skate Canada impressed her more than any other group she’s worked with in the past in terms of the organization’s efforts to prioritize the community.

“They were really, really impressive. I was floored at every level,” said Meloche. “It was so well done; it was a powerful presentation of inclusion and acceptance of the First Peoples of the land. It was more than acknowledging. It was about respect.”

Skate Canada initially engaged Meloche to perform the Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen – the opening address for the World Championships which was delivered in Mohawk and displayed on the jumbotron in the Bell Centre at the start of each day of the event. However, Meloche encouraged Skate Canada and the ISU to go further and offer workshops for coaches and officials participating in the event. Met with enthusiasm by both organizations, Meloche successfully delivered two 90-minute Indigenous Awareness Training sessions for more than 50 attendees.

“They were fascinated, and I challenged them that if they see potential in a non-Native, particularly a white skater, to find an Indigenous skater, an Inuit skater, a Black skater, to begin to take their perspectives and see how their own populations are very well supported,” said Meloche.  “You’ll often target, and support, and elevate your own populations. So, every time you see that promising skater, I want them to look for Indigenous skaters, to go on the reserves, to go into Black communities, and find our people that also have promise.”

Although an important milestone in Skate Canada’s journey towards truth and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, our efforts do not end with the World Championships and the Kahnawake community. As an orgnization, we are committed to continuing the conversation and creating more opportunities to advance inclusion and equity in figure skating in Canada.

“The work doesn’t stop. It’s continuous education that goes beyond working with the community. We need to make sure our own members are educated,” said Patricia Ann Que, Project Manager of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility at Skate Canada. “We want to make sure that if there’s a chance to engage with Indigenous communities, we really make that happen.”

Removing barriers to sport can help level the playing field for underrepresented groups, providing equal opportunity for athletes of all races, ages, genders, and abilities to realize their goals both on and off the ice. As the Kahnawake Figure Skating Club emphasized, events like the World Championships can help the next generation of skaters see that there’s a place for them in the figure skating world.

“I’m glad Skate Canada reached out because hopefully going forward we’ll have more opportunities like this. Without it, our skaters would probably never get to go and see a competition,” Douglas said. “It opens doors for a lot of our older skaters to be able to see what comes next and what they could pursue. It inspired them.”

To learn more about the Skate Canada’s Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility initiatives and how we are working to make Skating for Everyone, please click here.

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