Island football coach wins national Indigenous award for work on and off the field

·3 min read

Richard Pellissier-Lush, from Lennox Island First Nation, has been involved in Island football and promoting Indigenous athletics for about 14 years.

Now he is being recognized for his efforts by the Aboriginal Sport Circle. Pellissier-Lush is the winner of the 2020 National Indigenous Coaching Award.

The award is given to someone who demonstrates outstanding contributions to Indigenous sport in Canada. It's given to two Indigenous coaches each year — one man and one woman.

"I have a hard time getting compliments and getting awards and stuff, so this is very surreal for me. I feel like there are many more Indigenous coaches across Canada that are more fitting and deserving," Pellissier-Lush said.

"I'm very proud of the recognition and the nomination that I received. And it goes to show the amount of work that you put in over the years that people do see the amount of passion and work ethic that you have and the kids kind of relay that same message."

Tony Davis/CBC
Tony Davis/CBC

Pellissier-Lush played football with Colonel Gray High School, the University of Manitoba and the Holland College Hurricanes — he's also part of an Indigenous coaching pilot project at the college.

Coaching isn't all about football for Pellissier Lush.

"It's about really creating … community leaders and successful adults," he said.

'Young mentors'

Pellissier-Lush created a flag football team in Abegweit First Nation.

Tony Davis/CBC
Tony Davis/CBC

"We started with three or four kids that were super interested in football," he said.

"We have almost three full teams of successful flag football teams. And this past year we were very successful and we got our first bronze medal in one of those divisions."

Pellissier-Lush also coaches the under-12 Cornwall Timberwolves tackle football team — and Indigenous youth are taking part.

"Now we have a string of kids coming that travel from Scotchfort First Nation to Cornwall to come play for the tackle football team. So we've converted them into young mentors and young role models."

His son Owen Pellissier-Lush is one of the Indigenous kids playing on the Timberwolves. He said he is proud of his father winning the award.

"I felt excited for him," he said. "I've learned how to be a leader on the field and how to help my teammates be the best they can be."

Tony Davis/CBC
Tony Davis/CBC

Other players say Pellissier-Lush helped them develop life skills on and off the football field.

"He's kind of helped me build my self-esteem and he is the reason I keep playing football," said Ethan Duncan, a running back and safety for the team who was sidelined with an injury Thursday night.

"I used to be scared of talking to people and now I am part of the football community I have more self-esteem to talk to everybody."

He said it feels great to be coached by an award winner.

Tony Davis/CBC
Tony Davis/CBC

Twelve-year-old Carissa Zettle moved to the Island from Nova Scotia last year and now plays multiple positions with the Timberwolves.

"I've always been into football but I never had the courage to join a football team," she said.

Zettle said her coach has told her to "never give up and always to do her best," and she tried to apply that to everyday life — not just sport.

"I've been a lot more confident in myself," she said.

Recipients of the 2020 National Indigenous Coaching Award also get a $1,500 bursary to support professional development in coaching. Veronica McDonald of the Northwest Territories also won the award.

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