More than a dozen local aboriginal youth soccer players will get a taste of international competition next week when they travel with NIFA United FC to play in the Indigenous Soccer Cup in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The players included boys and girls from age 12 to 18 and represent four local First Nations communities, in Quatsino, Tsulquate, Fort Rupert and Alert Bay. The group will also include several North Island coaches and more than two dozen family members and chaperones.
“Our northern (Island) communities have really jumped on board,” said Dano Thorne, head coach of the Cowichan Valley-based Native Indian Football Association. “We took the task of putting teams together starting 14 months ago, and the communities are coming together on Vancouver Island to create these six teams. We’re hoping it’s the start of a youth program in our province.”
Thorne, who is assisted by William Wasden Sr. of Alert Bay, will take boys and girls teams in the U13, U15 and U19 age groups to compete in the U.S. tournament. He has years of experience taking elite-level ladies teams to international competitions, but this will be the single largest group he’s taken on trip.
“There’s been a lot of work putting everything together,” said Tammy Hunt of Quatsino, who helped organize preparations for the 10 players and additional traveling party members from her band. “We had to get passports, go online to fill out our papers and take them down, and do a lot of fundraisers.
“We raised $6,000, and the band kicked in $5,000 to help these kids go.”
Beginning last May, local players selected to participate have traveled to the Cowichan Valley for a series of camps to prepare them for the competition.
Thorne said the Indigenous Cup will include opening ceremonies with dancers from several cultures, and feature a series of health and wellness workshops. He said NIFA United FC will be the first club from B.C. to attend the tourney, and believes it will be the only Canadian entry.
“I want to spend a lot of time with my group, of course, but I also want to respect the protocols of the territory we’re visiting,” Thorne said. “Our effort is to promote health and wellness among the Native American and First Nations communities in Canada and beyond, through sports and culture.”