Huskies goaltender Roddy Ross.
Huskies goaltender Roddy Ross. (Photo: SIRC)

Beyond sports: USask Huskie Athletics fostering Indigenous inclusion and empowerment

In 2018, the Saskatoon Residential School Survivor Circle supported the request of the Huskie Cross Country team’s desire to race in orange singlets in honour of Residential School Survivors and the thousands of children who never made it home.

By SIRC/Paula Baker

This tradition continues today and has evolved to include all visiting athletes choosing to wear orange singlets for this annual race.  

It’s one of the reasons why in recent years, the University of Saskatchewan’s Athletic Department has emerged as a leader in promoting inclusivity and empowerment for Indigenous communities through self-examination, community engagement and thoughtful strategic planning. At the forefront of these efforts is the department’s leadership and staff, who appreciate the diversity of Indigenous cultures and perspectives and through collaborative partnerships work to ensure integration is embedded into the fabric of their athletic programs.  

As a result, in 2019, the development of an Indigenous Task Force, made up of community members and alumni, came together to explore opportunities within athletics for Indigenous engagement as well as the internal structures required to meaningfully support partnerships and education. In 2021, a renewed commitment to Indigenous inclusion came under the leadership of the new Chief Athletics Officer Shannon Chinn.   

Foundational to their approach, Chinn said, is the principle of community engagement and collaboration. Instead of imposing predetermined strategies, the athletics department actively sought guidance from Indigenous communities, fostering a relationship built on mutual respect and understanding. This approach has proved pivotal in ensuring that initiatives resonate authentically with Indigenous people and communities. 

As part of their strategy, Indigenous perspectives have been intentionally woven into various aspects of athletic operations. From the provision of procurement opportunities to the incorporation of cultural components and professional development, the Huskie Athletics department continues to strategically integrate the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) 94 Calls to Action within their organizational practices.  Woven into the gameday experience are Indigenous dancers, drummers, the Treaty 6 Song and a custom land acknowledgement composed by student-athletes. 

These are not simple check box initiatives. The time, resources and effort put into creating and supporting these initiatives is enormous and to be honest at times daunting. But we have trust in community partners, staff and student-athletes, which make the journey that much more powerful and meaningful. It’s the behind the scenes work of these groups that I wish people could see, as it’s truly inspiring. It’s like Ray Lewis said, ‘the hardest thing to do is work hard when no one is watching’,” said Chinn.

Click here to read the full article via SIRC.

Together, we will work towards Truth and Reconciliation. We invite you to join by supporting Indigenous achievement at USask.