A local Aboriginal rugby program has returned to Vancouver after its first international tournament, with more than a few victories under its belt.
Vancouver Island-based Thunder Rugby saw a mix of Under-18 and Under-16 teams take part in California’s LA Sevens Invitational tournament, where they took part in more than 36 rugby matches at 7 – the Olympic version of the sport.
They triumphed, with one of the boys under 18 teams winning the plate competition and the girls under 18 winning their division, but it was off the field that the real action took place. With more than 80 percent of the team coming from diverse Indigenous backgrounds, the trip was as much about celebrating heritage as it was about sport.
“Our program has always been focused on Indigenous youth,” says director John Lyall, who founded Thunder Rugby in 2014. “Rugby is a great game, but the biggest part of this journey has been building identity indigenous and the cultural pride of the players. .”
When the teams weren’t playing each other or throwing a rugby ball on the beach, they were coming together to sing. Often, tour leader Raymond Jones Peter Jr., a member of the Cowichan tribes, led performances of Hych’ka Siem. A song inspired by gratitude, its title translates to “thank you” in the Coast Salish language.
It was a convoy of two buses, six cars and a trailer that transported the group of 39 people from Vancouver to California, accumulating 5,000 km of highway. For some of the young players, many of whom had never left the comfort of Canada before, the road trip was a lesson in rugby, cultural practice and life itself.
“I had never left the province before so there was a lot of nervous excitement,” admits Savion Atchison, a grade 12 student with Carson Graham from North Vancouver, “but it was a great experience. I learned so many new things. “
Atchison, of Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation), said he admires the program’s leaders for giving Aboriginal youth the opportunity to learn more about their own culture.
“It’s cool how John has put this First Nation team together, giving aboriginal kids the chance to learn. Having an Elder telling us stories about the game, and sports in general, has also been a lot of fun,” he says, adding that Raymond Jones Peter Jr, or simply “Brother Rick” of the team, will forever be with us. center of good memories for all players and staff.
Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the Indigenous and Civic Affairs reporter for North Shore News. This pace of reporting is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.
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