Indigenous Success Stories

Sports and Reconciliation (87-91)

B.C. lacrosse coach captures National Indigenous Coaching Award

November 9, 2023
Two people, a man and a woman, are holding awards. In the background is a set made up of banners and balloons. Tyndall Fontaine and Savanna Smith are this year’s male and female recipient of the National Indigenous Coaching Awards.

Savanna Smith is proud of the fact she has won a National Indigenous Coaching Award. Smith, who has Blackfoot ancestry and lives in Surrey, B.C., is this year’s female recipient of the award.

She also likes the fact the 2023 male recipient, Tyndall Fontaine, a member of Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba, is, like herself, a lacrosse coach. “It was really cool that two people who are lacrosse coaches ended up getting this award,” said Smith, who is involved in numerous initiatives in her home province.

Winners of the National Indigenous Coaching Award are annually selected by reps from the Aboriginal Sport Circle (ASC), the governing body of Indigenous athletics in Canada.

Both Smith and Fontaine were presented with their awards during a ceremony Nov. 3 in Calgary. That event was part of the Petro-Canada Sport Leadership Awards Gala, hosted by the Coaching Association of Canada.

“It is an honour for the Aboriginal Sport Circle to be celebrating the accomplishments and impacts these two coaches have made for Indigenous youth in the field of play and within their communities,” said ASC president Rob Newman.

“Tyndall and Savanna are leaders within the Indigenous sport community and are creating positive opportunities for Indigenous youth across the country.”

Despite her numerous contributions to lacrosse in her home province, Smith was not anticipating any national recognition. “It has been a little overwhelming,” she said. “I’m not a limelight kind of person.”

Smith served as the head coach of the B.C. girls’ under-19 club that won the gold medal at this year’s North American Indigenous Games (NAIG). Those Games, held this past July, were primarily run in Halifax. Smith had also guided the B.C. girls’ under-19 entry to a podium finish at the 2017 NAIG staged in Toronto and surrounding communities. Smith’s team placed third at that event.

In between these two NAIG competitions, Smith had served as the team manager for the Haudenosaunee girls’ entry that took part in the 2019 world girls’ under-19 championships held in Peterborough, Ont.

Smith, who is 33, is eager to continue passing on her knowledge of the sport. “I want to concentrate on the amount of Indigenous youth we have playing in B.C., both on the girls’ and boys’ teams,” she said.

To this end she is a coach with Fusion West Lacrosse. This organization provides training for those in Grade 3 through Grade 12 and who live on B.C.’s Vancouver Island, Lower Mainland or Thompson Okanagan regions. Fusion West Lacrosse fields numerous teams that also travel to various tournaments in the United States.

Smith helps coach those who are members of the eight Fusion West Lacrosse girls’ teams. Smith has also been an instrumental figure in the B.C.-based women’s West Division of the Arena Lacrosse League (ALL). This circuit, which features six teams, is gearing up for its third season of play.

Smith is one of the founders of the circuit. And she’s also one of the reasons all of the clubs in the league have names from animals taken from the story of The Great Ball Game—Bear, Turtle, Hawk, Bat, Deer and Flying Squirrel.

According to the Haudenosaunee story, The Great Ball Game tells how the first game of lacrosse was played by winged creatures versus four-legged animals. The lesson from this story is that everyone has a contribution to make since the creatures all possessed their own qualities.

Smith has held numerous roles with the ALL during its first two seasons of operations. For the first time she will also play in the league this coming season, which will commence next month.

By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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