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Skating worlds prioritize Kahnawake 

The Kahnawake Figure Skating Club could barely contain their excitement as they watched world champion skaters twirl at the Bell Centre. Courtesy Bethany Douglas 

The sound of 62 members of the Kahnawake Figure Skating Club (KFSC) gasping as world champion skaters backflipped on the ice at the Bell Centre last weekend filled local coach Bethany Douglas with pride as she reflected on the efforts being made to make her sport more accessible.  

“It’s really meaningful and kind of emotional to see. We grew up with our skating club, and now we’re teaching the next generation,” said Douglas, who said skaters from ages three to 17 are involved with the club. “This is something skaters got to experience that they’d never seen before. And hopefully events like this will keep encouraging new skaters. The future is very bright.” 

The club was invited to the International Skating Union (ISU) World Championships this year because of community member Konwatsitsawi Meloche’s work with Skate Canada and the ISU over the past few months. She said the organizations impressed her more than any other group she’s worked with in terms of their efforts to prioritize the community. 

“They were really, really impressive. I was floored at every level,” said Meloche. “It was so well done; it was a powerful presentation of inclusion and acceptance of the First Peoples of the land. It was more than acknowledging. It was about respect.” 

Meloche was initially asked to do the Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen, which she rehearsed with her language coach, Kaiatitahkhe Annette Jacobs. It was displayed on the jumbotron across the Bell Centre, with translations of what she was saying in English and French on screens that wrapped around the stadium.  

Sharing the Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen with the stadium was an exciting part of the event, but Meloche was glad when her suggestion to go further and offer workshops for coaches and officials was met with enthusiasm from ISU and Skate Canada.  

The two organizations were immediately on board with her idea and asked her to lead two 40-minute workshops over the course of two days. Meloche asked for 90 minutes instead and was happy that the two organizations immediately accepted her request. Around 50 professionals came to the workshops. 

“They were fascinated, and I challenged them that if they see potential in a non-Native, particularly a white skater, to find an Indigenous skater, an Inuit skater, a Black skater, to begin to take their perspectives and see how their own populations are very well supported,” she said.  

“You’ll often target, and support, and elevate your own populations. So, every time you see that promising skater, I want them to look for Indigenous skaters, to go on the reserves, to go into Black communities, and find our people that also have promise.” 

Patricia-Ann Que, Skate Canada’s project manager of equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility, emphasized that the organization wants to commit to engaging with Indigenous communities and initiatives beyond just the World Championships. 

“The work doesn’t stop. It’s continuous education that goes beyond working with the community. We need to make sure our own members are educated,” she said. “Konwatsitsawi gave training to our coaches and officials, and in May we have another Kairos blanket exercise with our board in Vancouver. We want to make sure that if there’s a chance to engage with Indigenous communities, we really make that happen.” 

Que also said that Skate Canada hopes to do more to break down accessibility barriers to skating that often affect BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) communities. 

“Skating is not a cheap sport, there’s financial barriers, so we have the ‘Diverse Leaders in Skating Mentorship Program,’ which gives members of the BIPOC community a bursary fund to complete their training,” she said. “It’s not easy to get into the sport. It’s not just the financial barriers, it can be the availability of coaches and rinks themselves…. If we know we’re doing our due diligence, we can work towards something better.” 

As the Kahnawake Figure Skating Club approaches its 30th anniversary on April 21, they’re hoping more events like this can help the next generation of skaters see that there’s a place for them in the figure skating world. 

“I’m glad Skate Canada reached out because hopefully going forward we’ll have more opportunities like this. Without it, our skaters would probably never get to go and see a competition,” Douglas said. “It opens doors for a lot of our older skaters to be able to see what comes next and what they could pursue. It inspired them.” 

evedcable@gmail.com 

This article was originally published in print on March 29 in issue 33.13 of The Eastern Door.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.