Indigenous athletes from British Columbia chosen for Premier’s Awards

Monday, December 18th, 2023 9:59am


Image Caption

Braden Blace and Santana DeFazio


“These awards celebrate not only their achievements on the field, but their resilience, determination, and the cultural strength they carry with them.” — Corinne McKay, the president of the Indigenous Sport, Physical Activity and Recreation Council board of directors
By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A teenage soccer star who is hoping to add coaching to her repertoire and a Junior A hockey player who will showcase his talents at the U.S. collegiate level next year are among the Indigenous athletes that have received provincial recognition in British Columbia.

Santana DeFazio and Braden Blace are among the 10 latest recipients of the Premier’s Awards for Indigenous Youth Excellence in Sport.

Winners were singled out for their accomplishments on and off the field of play. They were chosen by reps from the Indigenous Sport, Physical Activity and Recreation Council (I-SPARC), the provincial governing body for Indigenous athletics.

DeFazio, a member of Sts’ailes Nation, is an 18-year-old who is a rookie with the University of Mary Marauders women’s soccer team in Bismarck, N.D.

Blace, a member of Squamish Nation, is a 20-year-old defenceman with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, which competes in the British Columbia Hockey League. Blace is committed to Quinnipiac University and will start suiting up for the Connecticut-based school starting with the 2024-25 season.

“I’m extremely honoured all my years of hard work has paid off,” DeFazio said of her award.

The award winners will each receive a $500 bursary. They also get a framed, limited-edition Premier’s Award print. And their photo and biography will be on display in the BC Sports Hall of Fame.

Since she received both athletic and academic entrance scholarships, DeFazio has the majority of her expenses covered for her freshman year at University of Mary, an NCAA Division II school.

DeFazio is a centreback for the Marauders, which competes in the 15-team Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. She’s also enrolled in the school’s four-year criminal justice program.

DeFazio is hoping soccer will remain a big part of her future.

“I want to have it in my life for a long time,” she said, adding she is also keen to become a coach to pass on her knowledge of the sport to others.

DeFazio said she does not have any immediate plans to spend her bursary money.

“A goal of mine is to travel,” she said. “So, I think I’m going to invest it so I can hopefully travel to Europe.”

Before she ventured off to the University of Mary, DeFazio, who was a member of Langley United, had been selected as best player of the year at the U-17 female level in the BC Soccer Premier League. 

As for Blace, he was obviously pleased to be one of the award winners as well.

“It’s an honour for sure to be nominated along with the other great Indigenous athletes,” he said.

Blace said he applied for the award.

“But I wasn’t expecting to win,” he said. “I just wanted to put my name in and see what happens.”

Like DeFazio, Blace also intends to put his bursary money in the bank for now.

“It’s probably the best way to go about it,” he said.

Besides finishing off his junior hockey career with the Bulldogs, Blace is also looking forward to his post-secondary career at Quinnipiac University.

“I committed there two summers ago,” he said. “I’m very excited about that commitment.”

The other recipients of the Premier’s Awards awards were:

  • Kalezafar Lawrence, Penelakut Tribe, lacrosse
  • Brooke Hall-Eckes, Tsartlip First Nation and Métis, softball
  • Kynan Haintz, Hwlitsum First Nation, wrestling
  • Kayla Burns, Métis, volleyball
  • Indigo Berry, Hwlitsum First Nation, karate
  • Alex Paterson, Métis, lacrosse
  • Justin George, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, soccer
  • Lauren Curtis, Wampanoag Tribe, track and field

All of the Premier’s Awards recipients were honoured during a virtual ceremony held on Dec. 14.

“You worked hard, trained hard, you earned this honour,” Premier David Eby said to the award winners. “Today is about celebrating your achievements both on and off the field of play. You have already accomplished so much as leaders in your sport and in your community and this is just the beginning. All of BC is cheering you on and so am I.”

Lana Popham, the minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, also praised the award winners.

“You are a source of pride for people in your community and all British Columbians,” she said. “These awards are an incredible way to support Indigenous youth and foster greater understanding and appreciation for Indigenous culture that advances our government’s commitment to meaningful reconciliation in this province.”

Corinne McKay, the president of I-SPARC’s board of directors, also spoke glowingly of those who were recognized.

“Through sport, Indigenous youth are not just excelling, they’re rewriting their narratives of possibility,” she said. “These awards celebrate not only their achievements on the field, but their resilience, determination, and the cultural strength they carry with them.”

McKay believes the award winners will go on to even greater accomplishments.

“Your dedication inspires us all as you pave the way for a future where our youth continue to thrive, not only as athletes, but as empowered leaders of our communities,” she said.

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.