In October 2022, Ever Active Schools had the opportunity to co-host the Alberta School Athletics Association (ASAA) Cross Country Running Provincial Championships with maskêkosihk, or Enoch Cree Nation. This was only the second time in ASAA history that a First Nation community was selected to host.
“It was so special because the Cultural Grounds [where we held the race], which had been used for many years by Enoch Cree Nation for pow wows, round dances, sweat lodge ceremonies and other cultural events, had not been used for a large event in a number of years,” explains Chantell Widney, Race Director and coordinator for mâmawinitowin mîyowâyâwin, Enoch’s hub for sport and well-being.
“The Elders say that the area had been sleeping and that the races brought positive energy to the area. It was so special to see such a culturally significant area for the Nation come back to life with energy from the youth.”
The opportunity to host the ASAA Championships first came up in June of 2022. Chantell and the community saw it as a fantastic opportunity to not only host a top-notch sporting event, but also to support the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action #87-91, which specifically address sport.
Call to Action #89 states: 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.
“When we first started planning the championships I had a vision to host the ASAA High School Cross Country Running Championships alongside a cultural piece that would highlight the rich and beautiful culture of maskêkosihk or Enoch Cree Nation. I worked closely with the school, maskêkosak kiskinomâtowikamik, and together we developed a program of drumming, dancing, and teaching that would represent Enoch Cree Nations’ people and culture.”
Building the course was a busy task! There were a few existing ATV trails, but the majority of the course finding process included hiking through waist-high grass and thistle patches with a measuring wheel to dial in the course measurements. Once the course was mapped out, local Elders educated the course makers on the traditional medicine patches, recommending where to and not to mow as well as the best time of year to mow. The creation of the course truly would not have been possible without some extremely dedicated folks, including Elder Joe, who spent hours mowing the course several times to get it race-ready.
“I learned so much from the community Elders and knowledge keepers about the land, the medicines, the history and the culture,” said Chantell.
The Enoch Cree Nation Culture Department was forthcoming with their praise for the event and the organizers who made it all possible.
“It was an absolute honor to be a part of the selection process for the Championship races,” said Sandra Alexander.
“The positive energy that was brought to our maskêkosihk cultural grounds by all the youth and visiting guests was so uplifting and very well received. In the past our grounds have guided us in awakening our spirit to our connection to the land. It’s been a place in which our ancestors have gathered to meet in ceremonies or celebrations. This event and the energies that were shared by all is a true testament of how our ancestors have been utilizing our grounds in nurturing our spirits.”
“I believe this event was a wonderful experience for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to share in Enoch’s rich cultural history and the land,” said Terry V. Morin.
“Our department was able to educate many people on our history… Our lake is very sacred to us, it reminded me of old times where we hosted the Winterburn Stampede. To see everyone talking and sharing their experiences to this past and to see the same spirit was amazing.”
More than 700 athletes and 1,200 coaches, parents, community members and spectators attended the championships, and many coaches left raving reviews in a post-event survey:
- “I absolutely LOVED the opportunity to learn more about Enoch traditions from the true source as opposed to a school board representative. The drum circle was amazing and inspiring for all my kids, and I had chills at opening ceremonies when they started singing. I know for a fact that some kids heard the drums and ran even harder at the end. The dancing and educational speaker was really outstanding. She had such excellent public speaking and stage presence, and I feel much more knowledgeable as a result of her time. This was easily the best provincials I have ever attended.”
- “I felt that the infusion of Indigenous ways was magical. It moved my athletes and their parents to places I did not expect. The drumming at the finish line lifted spirits and created energy. The dancing and education during races brought awareness and curiosity.”
- “Witnessing the drummers and singers and dancers was an amazing experience. We really appreciated the teachings about the different kinds of dancers and the significance of each. It was an incredible experience and we felt honored to be invited into the Indigenous culture.”
- “They were in awe with the drumming and dancing. It was special to be on traditional land/grounds. It was a great environment to be in!”
Race Director Chantell recalled her number one favourite moment was seeing and feeling the energy of the land, the racers, the volunteers and the spectators. Her second favourite moment was seeing the kids take off from the start line, as it brought her back to her own running days.
“It was a magical day – everything I could have hoped for and more,” Chantell said.
“It is a special day for the racers and to have a small part in this moment was very special. I will remember this day for the rest of my life.”