By Sam Laskaris
The Aboriginal Sport Circle (ASC) is back up and running. And officials from the national Aboriginal sports governing body are hoping to not only offer previous programs they spearheaded, but also expand with some other initiatives.
The ASC was founded in the late 1980s. It operated various sporting ventures for Aboriginal athletes from across the country.
But about a half dozen years ago, the ASC was virtually placed on its deathbed as all of its funding was cut off by Sport Canada.
Though the ASC was not functioning the last several years, all 13 provincial or territorial Aboriginal sports organization across Canada continued to operate.
But things just weren’t the same.
“Without the national body, you don’t have a national presence whatsoever,” said Alwyn Morris, the former Olympian, who had served as the ASC president for more than a decade after the organization was founded.
Morris, a Mohawk who had won two medals (one gold and one bronze) in the kayaking competitions at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, began plans to revive the national association in 2014.
For starters, he applied for a grant through a legacy program created from the 2008 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) held in Cowichan Valley, B.C. This application ended up transpiring into $80,000 in funding.
Morris and other officials then revamped their business plans and rewrote some ASC by-laws. These processes allowed ASC to approach Sport Canada officials again to determine whether they would be given any funding.
Then, earlier this year, when Sport Canada officials agreed to give $800,000 in funding, beginning with the fiscal year of April 1, the ASC was back in business.
“I’m pleased all the pieces fell into the right places,” said Morris, who is volunteering his time and once again serving as the ASC president.
He’s obviously thrilled the national body has the necessary funds to operate.
“It lends that credibility to be able to speak to our clients and to do our tasks,” he said.
One of the first orders of business was hiring an executive director for the ASC. Heather Kaulbach filled that role when she began her job on March 31.
Kaulbach has more than a quarter century of experience working for various sports organizations. A good chunk of her work career was spent with Water Polo Canada. She started off working as the organization’s domestic co-ordinator back in 1989.
After serving in other capacities, including a stint as CEO of Water Polo Canada, Kaulbach left the organization this past September.
.After leaving Water Polo Canada and before she was hired by the ASC, Kaulbach worked briefly for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
“I didn’t know too much about (the ASC),” said Kaulbach, who was interviewed for the position in January and offered the position a month later. “It was a very interesting opportunity. And I’m very excited and honored to be in this position now.”
Kaulbach is currently the only employee in the ASC’s Ottawa-based office. But she will have some company in the near future.
The ASC is advertising for an event co-ordinator position. Other administrative roles will be posted soon as well.
Besides Kaulbach, either three or four other staff members will be working at the ASC office in the near future. One of the major events the ASC was previously involved with, and will now renew its involvement, is the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC).
Nova Scotia’s Membertou First Nation will host the 2018 NAHC in May. The ASC revival also means that the Tom Longboat Awards, presented to Canada’s top Aboriginal female and male athletes, will once again start being handed out.
Kaulbach believes the national awards were last handed out in 2010. National female and male winners will be honored at a ceremony this November.
And then, as was the case in the past, regional Tom Longboat Award winners, will also start being recognized again next year.
Aboriginal coaches will also start being recognized with National Aboriginal Coaching awards.
“We will be relaunching that in the fall of 2018,” she said.
Kaulbach said ASC officials would also like to explore the possibilities of one day having national Aboriginal championships in sports other than hockey.
Future national tournaments could be held in archery, badminton, basketball, canoeing/kayaking, lacrosse, snowboarding and swimming.
“There’s some new initiatives,” she said. “But there’s also some very good old initiatives we’re reviving and building upon. It’s very exciting times for us.”
Kaulbach said ASC representatives will also look to partner with some existing sporting ventures. One such example is the World Indigenous Basketball Challenge. The second annual tournament is being held this week in Vancouver.
“Rather than re-inventing the wheel, we’re looking to piggyback with some events,” Kaulbach said.