An Indigenous sports organization is aiming to keep Indigenous youth active and connected during the COVID-19 pandemic that has forced the postponement of the largest Indigenous sporting tournament in the country this year.

The North American Indigenous Games were scheduled to be hosted by the City of Halifax in July of this year, but were forced to postpone due to restrictions related to COVID-19. Indigenous communities from all of B.C. were sending young athletes and coaches to compete, including a handful from Osoyoos. But the postponement of the games and shutdown of many Indigenous communities has left teammates isolated and disconnected from the sports they love.

The Indigenous Sport, Physical Activity and Recreation Council (I-SPARC) of B.C. is trying to turn that disappointment around. Lara Mussell Savage, I-SPARC director of sport and Team BC chef de mission said they are launching a virtual campaign to keep athletes and coaches connected and active during the pandemic.

“It’s a huge disappointment, right, with our youth on their pathway to excellence and looking forward to the games this summer,” said Mussell Savage. “We really just wanted to send a message to everyone that we’re thinking of them, that we’re hoping that they stay connected and to keep moving, and to continue passing on their own spark of positivity amongst their own teammates, amongst their families, amongst their communities.”

The campaign, called Be the Spark, aims to get Team BC athletes and coaches sending videos and photos into the I-SPARC team that show inspiring messages, ideas for physical activity or igniting connections between estranged teammates.

Mussell Savage said the new campaign was just launched next week and she can’t wait to see how creative the submissions will be.

“One of the female basketball teams created this little video of them passing a basketball virtually to each other,” she said, calling it fantastic. Mussell Savage also said they are expecting a similar video from the lacrosse development squad sometime this week. 

But so far I-SPARC is targeting coaches, like Osoyoos Indian Band’s Ashley McGinnis who is an assistant coach with Team BC basketball, to spearhead the idea.

“We’re really targeting our coaches right now, like asking them directly what’s your message to pass on and do the same?” said Mussell Savage.

If nothing else, Mussell Savage and the team at I-SPARC hope to give young Indigenous athletes a chance to connect to some of the people they’ve met through their involvement with development programs. Mussell Savage said that these youth are used to being active and in a gymnasium, or participating in team sports. Many Indigenous communities throughout the province are under stricter restrictions than urban centres, with communities closing themselves off to all but residents in order to keep their elders and vulnerable members safe. This means  Indigenous youth living on reserve are possibly further isolated from each other than non-Indigenous youth, making campaigns like this one important for their health and wellbeing.

“We know that many of our Indigenous communities are living in a state of, a first level state of emergency or a state of closure,” said Mussell Savage. “We’re just hoping kids are finding creative ways to stay active, to stay in shape, and to stay connected. We’re trying to get creative.”

Mussell Savage said on top of the Be the Spark campaign, I-SPARC is providing it’s community with tips for at home workouts and actual workouts designed by Team BC coaches and trainers. All of this, said Mussell Savage, will keep going as long as Team BC’s indigenous athletes are kept at home and off the courts.

Mussell Savage said she hopes all of Team BC’s Indigenous athletes will be back to training in time for the North American Indigenous Games which they hope to host in the summer of 2021.

“We’re waiting for the regular updates from, whether it’s the health authority, the provincial health office just providing that guidance of when we can start resuming some activity,” she said.