September 26, 2023

Diversity Is Strength Conversations: Reconciliation through sport

Thomas Skrlj/

TORONTO — Amy Shipley put it very succinctly.

“(When) we talk about engagement, retention, getting Indigenous women into spaces, it’s the principle of ‘Nothing about us without us,'” said Shipley, the participation in sport lead with Sask Sport.

“Really what that says is if we want to look at engaging more women, it’s important to ask women and to invite women to the table and to listen to their voice. You know, as Indigenous women, we have solutions and we need to be invited into spaces in order to share those solutions and be part of that engagement process and not just as that token women sitting around a table. You need to really bring people in.

“If you’re looking to do programming for Indigenous kids or for new Canadians, whoever it is, really using that principle about ‘nothing about us without us’ is a good way forward. You need to talk to people and find out what their needs are, if you want to work with them and engage with them.”

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Shipley joined Kevin T. Hart, the CEO and president of Indigenous Football Canada and coach of the under-18 women’s national Indigenous team, which competed for the first time this past summer at the women’s national championships in Ottawa, and longtime CFL official Brian Chrupalo for a conversation with Donnovan Bennett for the CFL’s latest instalment of its Diversity Is Strength Conversations series.

The fifth instalment in the series focuses on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and how sport can play a role in reconciliation.

Hart, who began meeting with Football Canada president Jim Mullin in 2018, then later as part of a diversity task force that came together in 2021, referenced the TRC’s references to sports, diversity and inclusion of women. The former Manitoba regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations of Canada and a member of the Manitoba Football Hall of fame sees a tremendous opportunity for sport to factor into reconciliation.

“In October of 2022, Football Canada and ourselves, we were just in the infancy stage of developing Indigenous Football Canada,” he recalled. “We started having a very serious conversation about establishing the first ever national Indigenous football team to compete at the Canada Cup.

“At the time, we did not know until around February (of 2023) that it was going to be a women’s U-18 team. That U-18 team, the women’s national Indigenous tackle football team was the first national Indigenous team ever in Canadian sport to compete at that level with the other provinces and territories.”

Hart sees that first team — with some of its players pictured at the top of this story — having a tremendous impact, particularly it being a women’s team.

“Years from now when I’m long gone, people will look back and say, ‘That’s the first team that ever did it.’ And it was a team of young women that will pave the way for other teams to come,” he said.

“These girls broke down barriers that you can’t even imagine. Indigenous women in this country face so many barriers and stereotypes. It’s heartbreaking. To empower these young women and to give them this opportunity is something that’s very emotional for me. It’s so historic, because I see the realities that these young girls come from each and every day. If some of you knew those realities, you would lift up these girls and applaud their successes of even being able to be on the field with the national team.”

Chrupalo is a lifelong Winnipegger and has almost 30 years’ experience in the Winnipeg Police Service. He’s in his 18th season as a CFL official and has worked in five Grey Cup games, including the 109th edition of the game in Regina last year. He made calls in English and Ojibwe at the Blue Bombers’ Truth and Reconciliation night last year, making history as the first CFL official to do so.

The idea of ‘nothing about us without us’ resonates with him and is something he carries with him in every facet of his life.

“To give youth an opportunity to engage in sport is critically important. It was critically important in my growing up,” he said.

“It was an opportunity for me to engage in sport and participate although not able to be financially able sometimes to play some sports, having the ability and the support systems with schools and my parents to allow me to go out and participate and play the sports I wanted to were very impactful in my upbringing and in relationships with my friends and the community as well.

“To watch and to see highlights of the things that Kevin did this summer with Indigenous girls’ football, it was amazing to follow it on social media and to see what was going on.”

CFL official Brian Chrupalo made history last year when he announced penalties at a Blue Bombers game in Ojibwa. (Dave Chidley/

Chrupalo sees Hart’s work as an important step to facilitating reconciliation. He also listed other non-sport issues like increasing the amount of Indigenous police officers working, that have a connection to the community and can speak Indigenous languages.

“There are lots of ways that we could be improving,” he said. “It’s a way to get people to sit down at the table to have those conversations. Sport is a great opportunity to bring things forward, like Kevin did.

“There are opportunities for us to sit down collectively as well and discuss other aspects of the calls for action.”

Chrupalo reflected on making calls in Ojibwe last year and felt its significance.

“To go to that game to announce the penalties in Ojibwe, you see the number of people wearing orange in the crowd, the Indigenous people in the crowd that were brought in from communities to witness a CFL game, those are those are impactful moments. And we need more of those impactful moments,” he said.

“We don’t need to shy away from awkward conversations, we should be engaging more. Having the infrastructure or the needs for the government through all levels of government to bring more heightened awareness to what’s going on in the communities is critically important as well.”

Shipley brought home the point of effective inclusion. Creating programs that aim to include Indigenous people is a step in the right direction, but that step is only truly effective when those people are included and worked with so that they can be authentically reached. That can include not overlooking those that don’t have the conveniences that online registrations provide.

“Go talk to that community, find out what they want to do, how things will work for them. And invite people,” she said.

“People need to know that opportunities are for them. It’s not enough to create your poster or put on your website that there’s a program available, or that you’re starting a new league, whatever it is. You need to be intentional about it and phone people, talk to people.”

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