University athletes wearing their signature green-and-gold uniforms joined with hundreds of students at Enoch Cree Nation in a run and walk to celebrate a new hub for sports and wellness.
The maskêkosihk Hub for Sport and Well-being — a partnership between the University of Alberta's Golden Bears and Pandas cross-country running teams, the non-profit Ever Active Schools and the Kitaskinaw Education Authority — will provide culture camps and coaching and sport opportunities.
It will also create youth mentoring opportunities between the university athletes and students at Maskêkosak Kiskinomâtowikamik School, a K-12 school that opened in 2019.
"We're trying to create partnerships to think about movement and physical wellness and mental wellness in such different ways," said Sean Lessard, associate professor at the university and an advocate for Enoch Cree Nation youth.
Lessard said this is a way to encourage Indigenous youth to imagine their lives differently.
"And what better way than to partner with somebody like the University of Alberta so our kids could see themselves eventually in other places too."
Rihannon Arcand, an Enoch Cree Nation community leader, said the hub isn't just for students interested in sports.
"What about those kids that don't like sports?" she said.
"I want to make sure everyone's included."
Arcand said they are designing programs for students who lean more toward wellness, which is why Thursday's event also included a walk.
In addition to increasing participation in sports and wellness, the hub will offer high school credits to students.
School principal Jonathan Kaiswatum expects the hub to be much more than just a place for physical activity.
"It's a support that students can access ... in terms of that be physical, mental, emotional, spiritual," he said, adding the goal for the hub is to complement services already offered at the school.
The hub will be open to students during school hours, but will also offer after-school and weekend programs for Enoch children and U of A students to participate in or volunteer for.
The partnership also included a $10,000 donation to the University of Alberta's Golden Bears and Pandas Cross Country teams from Enoch Cree Nation.
Enoch Cree Nation is located on the west border of Edmonton's city limits.