The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have taken another important and tangible step in putting reconciliation into action.
The Blue Bombers presented a $50,000 cheque to the Winnipeg Aboriginal Sport Achievement Centre (WASAC) Saturday morning at the University of Winnipeg Axworthy Health & Recplex just as dozens of Indigenous athletes were practising football skills at a camp just yards from the ceremony.
The donation came through the proceeds of orange merchandise sales and the orange jersey auction from the Blue Bombers Truth and Reconciliation Game last September 30th.
“It’s huge,” said WASAC Executive Director Trevor LaForte said after Saturday’s media event. “We’re just excited for the partnership with the Winnipeg Football Club and where this can go. And to see that orange wave in the game last year was fantastic, it was awe-inspiring and I’m sure the whole nation took notice of it.”
WASAC began in 1999 with two leaders providing programming to 30 Indigenous youth. Those numbers have since grown to the point that last year the organization featured 120 youth leaders offering programming to 5,000 youth across the province.
The $50,000 donation from the Winnipeg Football Club will help WASAC enhance its summer kids camp, which first opened in 2006 and last year offered educational, cultural and sport programming to 1,500 Indigenous youth from 70 schools in Winnipeg – free of charge – while employing 80 youth leaders, many of them in their first job experiences.
“We provide everything free of charge for the kids,” LaForte explained. “We pick them up from their schools, bring them down to the camp, provide food and sport equipment.
“So much around us is going up in price, so to get this kind of support to the kids and enhance what we’re providing to them is important. This gift from the Winnipeg Football Club is just immense and we’re very proud to receive it.”
The Winnipeg Football Club has been a leader in so many aspects related to Truth and Reconciliation, including being the first North American franchise to make customary the territorial land acknowledgement in pre-game ceremonies.
The Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders wore orange jerseys in the warm-up prior to their meeting at IG Field last September. Written in Ojibway across where ‘Blue Bombers’ normally appeared
‘GAA-OZHAAWASHKO-BAASHKIDEWISIGEWAAD’ and while there is no direction translation for the word ‘Bombers’ it means, ‘The ones who are Blue and make explosions.”
The Blue Bombers also wore the star-blanket logo created for them by Dené Sinclair on their helmets. As well, working in partnership with Exchange Income Corporation, the Blue Bombers were able to host 1,000 members of Indigenous communities from Northern Ontario, Northern Manitoba and Nunavut who were flown into Winnipeg for the game.
That game, featured on TSN’s Friday Night Football’, also included the national anthem being sung in Ojibwe by Strong Warrior Girls Anishinaabe Singers while Pow wow singers, dancers and drummers featuring Ray CoCo Stevenson and the Walking Wolf Singers led the team onto the field prior to kickoff.
“We reserve that introduction for the most revered of our leaders. And so when I saw that… tears,” said Niigaan Sinclair, the WFC’s Director of Indigenous Relations and the lead in helping organize the events around last year’s Orange Shirt game “I kept thinking about my uncle, Henry Sinclair, who was a residential school survivor and experienced tremendous pain growing up but was also the most-fervent Bombers fan. He even has the logo on his gravestone. The most-important thing in his life was being a season-ticket holder and when I was a kid, my uncle and I had very close relationship and a big part of that was because he took me to games at the old stadium. I get emotional talking about him. When the team won the Grey Cup in Hamilton (in 2021), all I did was dream about him that night. He had passed away before that, but he was around for 1990 and that was an important thing in his life.
“We need to keep growing this,” Sinclair added, “and there is the hope other CFL teams will follow the Blue Bombers and get on board so that we could have more events and recognition during the week of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
“Looking back, seeing all those orange shirts in the crowd that day, all those youth who had never been at a game before was powerful. Then to see how the sales of thousands of the orange shirts benefits WASAC, well, it just shows you the love people have for this team and for the commitment it has made.”