Running with the Bison

Skownan First Nation's basketball teams have forged a relationship that is built on keeping Aboriginal youth in school through sport.

Coach Pam Danis, smiles as she watches the young Skownan First Nation basketball players running confidently alongside the Bison Women’s Basketball team.  The teams have forged a relationship that is built on keeping Aboriginal youth in school through sport.  

“Our vision is to create a structured sport team in Skownan by building on the existing interest in basketball with the long-term goal of creating a sustainable project where adult volunteers are trained to instruct youth.” says Pam Danis, Head Coach of the University of Manitoba, Bison Women’s Basketball team.

Skownan First Nation is a rural community, located four hours northwest of Winnipeg.  Statistics Canada lists a total population of 389 with 45 per cent of the community under the age of 20. Skownan is plagued by high unemployment rates and poor educational outcomes.

“Being a part of this basketball program has given us some wonderful benefits,” says Myrtle Catcheway, Skownan basketball coach. “Not only have we gained new basketball skills, we also learned the value of friendship, commitment, and determination.  The students in the program have a good attendance record in school, and a positive attitude. I’m very proud of these students and their parents, and I hope they continue to use these experiences to the best of their abilities”

Career Trek Inc., a non-profit organisation, supports the community through educational outreach and helped design the partnership between the varsity team and the community. “We started an eight-year intervention program with the Skownan First Nation to foster positive career development with the youth, from as early as age nine,” says Darrell Cole, Executive Director of Career Trek.  “The Running with the Bison project is using sport to develop community-leadership skills, while promoting a healthy lifestyle.”  

The Running with the Bison project has faced many challenges. When Coach Danis arrived in Skownan she discovered that the reserve did not have clean drinking water. She independently raised $10,000, which went towards water delivery and to provide dispensers in all classrooms. But the program continues to be concerned with funding to sustain the project and building capacity to support the basketball program within the community.  In recognition of this partnership to use sport as a catalyst for social development in the community, Career Trek Inc has been selected as a recipient of the True Sport Community Fund which will provide the Running with the Bisons program with $20,000 of funding over four years to help create sustainability.

"The collaboration between the Skownan First Nation community and the Bison Women’s Basketball team is a realization of True Sport,” says Victor Lachance, executive director of the True Sport Foundation.  “We create opportunities for people to work together through sport to make positive changes in their lives and their communities.”

Skownan First Nation and the University of Manitoba Women’s Basketball Team have established a true partnership based on mutual respect.  At the core of this project is also the goal of developing enlightened athletes and informed citizens by assisting non-Aboriginal people to better understand Aboriginal people, their culture and the barriers they are facing.  The Bisons Basketball Team now holds an annual retreat in Skownan where they train, serve as mentors to local athletes and take part in traditional Aboriginal teachings and ceremonies.

Skownan is an Ojibwe word meaning ‘turning point’ – a fitting recognition to the impact that the Running with the Bisons program is having in the community. In acknowledgement of their efforts to help the community while embracing and sharing Aboriginal culture, the Skownan Chief Harvey Nepinak has presented the University of Manitoba Women’s Basketball Team with a Grandfather Wood Bison – a symbol of strength, spirit, determination, community and camaraderie.