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Aboriginal Access Network builds bridge with UFV Athletics Department

It was a brave thing when UFV Cascades basketball forwards Samantha Kurath and Kyle Grewal walked a lap around the main gym at the Envision Athletics Center this past Saturday. They followed in the back of a procession led by UFV Athletics’ newest recruit, one who First Nations Elders and members of the Aboriginal Access Network, S’olh Shxwleli dedicated to the Cascades with what all hoped would be a ‘tasteful’, and respectful ceremony.

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Introducing UFV’s New Mascot, Sasq’ets

by Aaron Levy (Contributer)
Email: cascade.sports [at] ufv [dot]ca

It was a brave thing when UFV Cascades basketball forwards Samantha Kurath and Kyle Grewal walked a lap around the main gym at the Envision Athletics Center this past Saturday.

They followed in the back of a procession led by UFV Athletics’ newest recruit, one who First Nations Elders and members of the Aboriginal Access Network, S’olh Shxwleli dedicated to the Cascades with what all hoped would be a ‘tasteful’, and respectful ceremony.

That recruit is Sasq’ets, the given name to that who European/Canadians have taken to calling the sasquatch, and it is UFV Athletics first ever official mascot.

Kurath and Grewal acted as ceremonial captains for the men and women’s Cascades, and they walked slowly around the baselines, hands lifted at 45 degrees, shaking softly, the hum of chanting and rhythmic clang of beads and dresses shaking throughout the gym.

A slew of UFV and First Nations dignitaries were on hand, both to provide background for the history of Sasq’ets, and to witness the story telling and dedication of this spiritual creature whose colonial appropriation lies between conspiracy and myth.

One by one, UFV personnel such as English department head John Carroll, women’s basketball coach Al Tuchscherer, Vice President of Students Karen Evans, women’s basketball star Tessa Klassen, and athletics department head Rick Nickelchok, among others, as well as First Nations dignitaries, presented one another with ceremonial coins, representing the passing of the knowledge and memory of what was taking place; accepting responsibility to remember, remind, and re-tell over and over again the story of Sasq’ets, and the significance of UFV accepting it as their mascot.

Sasq’ets’ territory, it is said, lies between Oregon and the Okanogan, and is the origin to the modern tales of the sasquatch.

In an hour and a half ceremony that pushed back tghe Cascades and Manitoba Bison doubleheader action by about 30 minutes, Chief Willie Charlie acted as MC, calling upon different First Nations and UFV brass to share their stories of Sasq’ets history. The stories of their people, gratitude from UFV for being entrusted with this honor and challenge, as well as a theme song, dedicated to the Cascades, beaten out on drums, and sung in upbeat, bellowing three part harmony were the centerpieces of this unique event.

The challenge lies in properly respecting and accepting the gift of Sasq’ets. Representatives of S’olh Shxwleli want Sasq’ets to be a tribute to the history of the Salish and First Nations people, not a caricature of it, the way the Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, and Kansas City Chiefs depict aboriginal stereotypes.

Therein lies the bravery shown by Kurath, Grewal, and UFV Athletics in general. This is a tall task to accomplish, and nary but a few have done it across North America thus far. The sensitivity with which the issue must be treated, and the interchangeability of personnel between roles and even institutions, ensures that organizational memory will hardly be enough to pass on the reminders and background necessary to proliferate the importance of what happened on Saturday.

But by stepping up and accepting the task, both Grewal and Kurath, Athletics and UFV, specifically President Mark Evered, who made an impassioned speech to the audience at the ceremony – they are each taking on a responsibility that has daunted New World North Americans since they showed up hundreds of years ago. Acknowledging and  appreciating the land and legacy that we are living in, on and off of.

There will be no shortage of criticism as the future rears it’s expectant head, and that’s a burden that all involved at UFV have accepted in endeavoring to address this offer from the Aboriginal Access Network.

Kurath and Grewal, both injured currently, can look to Sasq’ets for strength, as the shape shifting protector, and friend to nature and its inhabitants, prepares to add UFV and its Athletics Clubs to its host of allies.

It’s an intriguing and somewhat surprising step that S’olh Shxwleli has taken in initiating this partnership, but it’s one that can prove to make strong headway in Aboriginal-Colonial relations, and it’s a step that UFV is positively courageous for moving forward with.

The ball is in your court, UFV; let’s trust it won’t get dropped.

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