Go to any Bombers, Jets, Bisons or Wesmen game and you’ll hear a similar pregame routine set of announcements. Starting lineups are announced, O Canada is sung and a land acknowledgement is made.
Acknowledging the local region by treaty and homeland began as a grassroots movement to recognize the continuous presence of Indigenous people. Land acknowledgements have been adopted as part of the mainstream with public events beginning with that familiar phrase.
For the Wesmen, actions to connect with the Indigenous community do not end with acknowledgement. The teams have embraced a variety of ways to encourage inclusion, such as the 2nd Annual Wesmen Basketball Indigenous Night on Nov. 24, 2016. The event was a fundraiser for the Aboriginal Student Council (ASC) and featured drumming, round dances, tobacco ties and star blankets presented to the women’s and men’s basketball coaches.
The Wesmen began acknowledging that their home games were held on Treaty 1 territory before all home games in 2014. Wesmen Athletics under their then new director, Dave Crook, began looking for ways to make the Wesmen part of the local community.
The Wesmen reached out to the ASC in 2015 about having an Indigenous Night, resurrecting a bygone tradition.
When planning the inaugural event, Crook said Wesmen Athletics realized “it would be respectful to start making that statement before our games.”
Daphne Comegan, ASC co-president, recalls the ASC’s end event last year was lead primarily by Maureen Twovoices. This year was a team effort with council members coming together to organize food and festivities as well as media coverage. Comegan recalls that “everybody really enjoyed the drumming and the round dances we had during half-times (of both games).”
Part of the Wesmen’s motivation was building relationship to help Indigenous people feel more comfortable in the Duckworth area. “You look at a lot of people in this community, and one of their first exposures with this campus is often through the Duckworth Centre,” Crook says.
The Wesmen are working to build a larger, socially oriented profile around the university. According to Crook, athletes volunteer, local teams are invited to games, and the Wesmen keep tickets and food prices affordable. The Wesmen have also had a night honouring Syrian refugees. Refugees were invited and given special access to the teams, and the Wesmen are interested in repeating that celebration this season.
“One of the things (the Wesmen) can do is to be a partner for people in the area, in our community,” Crook says. “We want those kids to come to university.”
Both Crook and Comegan say people have noticed the acknowledgement and feedback has been entirely positive.
“It’s quite an acknowledgement to have an organization such as the Wesmen to say, ‘Hey, we gotta acknowledge people, we have to acknowledge the land that we’re on,’” Comegan says. “It’s a big deal. I think a lot of the students who came out to Indigenous Day and the community members know that too and they appreciate the acknowledgement.”