By Jordan Small
Rocky Mountain Outlook
An Indigenous volleyball team is taking important steps for athletics on the reserve and girls participating in sport, as they attempt to raise enough funds to compete at the Alberta Indigenous Games (AIG) this summer.
The Stoney Nakoda Girls Volleyball Team runs drills on the single net at the Bearspaw Youth Centre gym in Morley on Tuesday (June 4) under the eye of head coach Joey Wesley.
The U18 team, consisting of eight girls aged 16 to 18 from all three Stoney Nakoda bands – Chiniki, Wesley and Bearspaw – is preparing to be the Nation’s first girls volleyball squad to go the annual Alberta Indigenous Games (AIG) from Aug. 11-17 in Edmonton.
Shawntayia Twoyoungmen, a 17-year-old centre, receives a spike from Wesley, sending the ball flying opposite of her at Tuesday’s practice. She sprints to try and catch a lobbing ball that’s just out of her reach before turning around and taking flight to spike a ball over the net for part of the training session.
The teen has been playing volleyball for six years and said communication is key to the team’s success.
“We’ve been wanting to go [to the Games] for the past year and this year we finally got a chance to get everything organized,” said Twoyoungmen.
According to the Alberta Indigenous Games, its mandate is “reclaiming our youth though sport development, educational empowerment, career opportunities and cultural connection” and events include track and field, soccer, volleyball, lacrosse, ball hockey and golf, among others.
In April, the Stoney Nakoda Girls Volleyball Team approached Wesley to coach them during the journey to the AIG. Wesley, who knows the girls through Morley’s drop-in volleyball nights, proudly accepted the offer.
“My goal as a coach is to improve the girls’ skill level and also to get a title at the Alberta Indigenous Games, knowing that it’s their first time going there,” Wesley said.
It’s the first time a girls’ volleyball team representing Stoney Nakoda is going to AIG, which has members of all three bands representing the team.
“It’s good as a Nation, definitely, because it shows that there’s no separation, everyone is working together and we all have the same common goals,” Wesley said.
While the team’s main focus is on the sport, financial challenges are proving a challenge and will determine whether they compete in Edmonton in August, said Wesley. The team needs to raise a minimum of $2,500 to support registration fees, gym rental fees for practice and travel and accommodation costs while at the games.
The costly dilemma sparked grassroots fundraising and sponsorship efforts by team and community members.
“So far, we’ve been making the community more aware and we’ve been putting up more fundraisers within the community, so that’s been going well,” said Twoyoungmen.
After becoming aware and concerned the girls’ wouldn’t achieve their goal to compete at AIG, Tasina Pope, a local change maker, created an online GoFundMe fundraising account to help their momentum.
“The GoFundMe account was created because the Indian Act allows for systemic barriers to make it challenging for Indigenous youth to have on-reserve constant, non-partisan programs available to them,” wrote Pope in an email. “I believe this team deserves as much support as possible even if I can't offer much myself.”
For more information, visit www.gofundme.com/stoney-nakoda-girls-volleyball-team.
As the team moves forward, Wesley said he wants to help the girls continue on in volleyball.
According to Women’s Sports Foundation, girls drop out of sports at a higher rate than boys due to lack of access, safety and transportation issues, social stigma, decreased quality of experience, cost, and lack of positive role models.
“On the Stoney Nation, it’s well known that there are volleyball players who are willing to compete and do all kinds of activities,” said Wesley.