More Than Just A Game: Indigenous Sport in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan Rush
Saskatchewan Rush
Joel Pedersen

Joel Pedersen

Historically, sport is a cultural practice that teaches survival skills, satisfies the innate urge for competition, and gratifies an element of social interaction.

Indigenous culture has been instrumental to the development of sport throughout Canada. Contemporary sports such as kayaking, canoeing and lacrosse all have Indigenous roots. Today, the Saskatchewan Rush, though in its early years as a National Lacrosse League club in the province, has made fans of as many residents as the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Modern day lacrosse has evolved from its roots dating back to Indigenous tribes in the 1600s, but the element of recreation has stayed.

What does sport do for a society? For an individual? Joel Pedersen, owner of 2J2 Fitness in Saskatoon, says, “Sport is pivotal. It teaches so many lessons. Every culture in history has had sport. In this day and age when we are constantly bombarded by technology, sport and fitness are components that give us balance.”

Pedersen provides mentorship throughout the province to aspiring fitness leaders and for communities seeking expanded health and wellness opportunities for its residents. While his focus is on First Nation and Métis communities, both urban and rural, 2J2 is inclusive. It’s Pedersen’s goal to promote a lifestyle of social responsibility, empowerment and inspiration for holistic wellbeing.

This goal is similar to that of the Tony Cote Summer/Winter Games. First held in 1974 (and then called the Saskatchewan First Nation Games), the Tony Cote Games provide an opportunity for young Indigenous athletes from across the province to celebrate achievement in sport and athleticism.

As the founder, Cote’s perspective of sport is that it can serve to enhance not only the individual athlete, but society as a whole. The achievements gained from the physical competition and cultural celebrations are carried into other avenues, inspiring the athletes’ pursuit of life goals and inspiring social responsibility in others.

“Sport has great learning lessons about community, responsibility and commitment,” Pedersen says. “For me, as a kid, sports was so important. I was fortunate to be able to play. A lot of kids haven’t had that chance.”

The 2019 Tony Cote Summer Games was hosted by Flying Dust First Nation from July 14 to 19. Athletes from the province’s 74 First Nations gathered to compete in athletics, archery, canoeing, cycling, golf, soccer, softball and volleyball. The event has certainly grown in its 40 plus years — the 1974 instalment welcomed 500 athletes, and today more than 3,500 compete.

The Games are more than a physical showcase, but a culturally-infused celebration of Indigenous history. The opening ceremony welcomed the 22 runners who transported the ceremonial lance — or “leader’s stick” — from Regina, the previous host community more than 500 kilometres from Flying Dust First Nation. The journey took six days, and demonstrated both teamwork and understanding of the sacredness of the Games.

As a sports-enthused society, Saskatchewan is built from the ground up of individuals striving for achievement and community building. The incredible Indigenous culture of sports and athleticism provides the perfect incubator for outstanding individuals.