First Nations women’s soccer team heads to Brazil for World Indigenous Games
Published Saturday, September 19, 2015 10:00PM EDT
Less than a year before athletes will flock to Rio De Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics, a Canadian team of First Nations women is gearing up for their own chance to compete on the international stage.
An all-aboriginal group of elite soccer players is heading for Palmas, Brazil in October for the first-ever World Indigenous Games, where they will join 2,000 athletes from 30 different countries, in a celebration of sport and aboriginal heritage.
For many of the players, the tournament will be one of the most important competitions of their lives.
“I feel overwhelmed with excitement and it’s huge,” Wynonna Cross told CTV News. “I never expected to be part of something this big.”
The girls come from across the country, and each player earned her spot after being scouted at a series of tournaments.
Leading up to the World Indigenous Games, half of the players have gathered near Montreal to train. The other half will join the team in Palmas, where they will practice together for the first time.
“It’s the first season playing with these girls,” Rachel Leborgne said. “And once we started playing together we just really started playing as a team, so I’m expecting the same thing when we get there.”
Leborgne, a Mohawk from Kahnawake, Que., said that, beyond soccer, the games will be an opportunity for the Canadian players to show off their heritage.
“Following those traditions and everything, it’s something that just comes to me,” she said. “Being able to represent that somewhere and show everyone else what we are and who we are is going to be something else.”
From the sidelines, Coach Harry Rice said he is also thrilled at the chance to be part of an international tournament.
Rice has taught some the players since they were children. He said that many First Nations athletes have limited opportunities, and that he never dreamed his players would be able to play on the world stage.
“Their talent is going to be broadcast for the world to see,” he said. “It’s exciting.”
For Leborgne, the tournament is also a chance to set an example for other aspiring indigenous athletes.
“I know everyone looks up to us, so it’s nerve-wracking being in this position” she said. “But I’m really excited to show them what we’ve got.”