On Sat., Jan. 9, the Aboriginal Student Centre (ASC), together with the Winnipeg Wesmen women’s and men’s basketball teams, celebrated the first Wesmen Indigenous Day with a series of back-to-back games against the Brandon University Bobcats.
The celebration included a spirit song and a traditional blessing and smudge from an ASC elder in residence, as well as indigenous drumming, music and dancing throughout the games. O Canada was also performed in Cree and Ojibwe before the first game and second games respectively.
The University of Winnipeg Wesmen dominated the event taking both the men’s and women’s matches 80-59, and 80-72.
Maureen Twovoice, the health and wellness coordinator for the Aboriginal Student Council at the University of Winnipeg (U of W), says the event was organized to get indigenous students more involved in university activities.
“It is important because we’re always trying to build healthy relationship with indigenous people and non-indigenous people, so this is a good way to do it in the university, especially for students,” Twovoice says.
The crowd at the basketball game was larger than usual and more diverse, organizers say.
Stephen Penner, the person behind the marketing and promotions for Wesmen, proposed the idea of bringing people together at the basketball game and honouring indigenous people at the same time.
“This event is to celebrate the indigenous part of the U of W, the indigenization of the Winnipeg Wesmen. It’s a celebration honouring... our coming together,” Penner, who is also a Master’s in Development Practice student, says.
Penner also noted that this kind of event is important on several different levels.
“It’s important to recognize that we are in a Treaty 1 land in a heart of the Métis nation. It’s important also to recognize that we’ve got brothers and sisters out there, indigenous brothers and sisters, people from all races,” Penner says.
“What can be better than to bring us all together in a game of basketball and to have fun to recognize others?”
“I think it builds a strong relationship between aboriginal centre and the athletic centre. I’ve never seen that many indigenous fans before. It was very empowering to see,” Skylar Boulanger, an indigenous member of the female basketball team, says.
The organizers of the event hope that it will become an annual occurrence.
“The hope that I have is to build a little bit more understanding between all races, gender in my little, little tiny way. And not even in my way, in a way that we all do it here between the Wesmen athletes, between Wesmen community,” Penner says.
“The U of W is a big campus and is made up of all sorts of different people, so why not celebrate?”