Hope and Health, Kw’umut Lelum Mini-Pitches to help ‘create the pathway’ for Indigenous soccer talent

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Back on August 26, Vancouver Whitecaps FC announced the installation of the first two soccer pitches in a series of mini-pitches across Indigenous communities in collaboration with Hope and Health and Kw’umut Lelum Child and Family Services.

The first pitch on Penelakut Island, made in conjunction with the Penelakut Tribe, was completed on September 13 and has marked the start of a long-time vision for Hope and Health.

“The current realities for Indigenous children and their communities are they don’t necessarily have the resources where they can play sports, specifically Penelakut, so it’s really aligned with our vision which is to bring high quality, progressive play spaces into Indigenous communities,” said Hope and Health executive director Deana Gill.

“The mini-pitch brings more opportunities for our children here on Penelakut,” said Penelakut Tribe chief Joan Brown. “The opportunity to develop the skills they need to excel in the development of their game, and most importantly the ability to stay active in the sport that they love.”

In addition to the pitch being built, a 5V5 Champions League between Penelakut players will be activated to give the youth a competitive environment with high-level coaching to help their technical development.

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As more pitches are constructed, Champions League play will expand across communities and fellow nations.

For Gill, it was important to give players the chance to perform in a competitive environment and have fun while doing it, but also give Indigenous players an equal opportunity to pursue their athletic dreams.

“One of the barriers that has been identified is not just having safe places to play, but also having the quality coaching so that Indigenous youth may have equal opportunities to participate and develop their athletic dreams and aspirations similar to mainstream,” said Gill.

“We really hope through the 5v5 Champions League that it will start to create the pathway for Indigenous soccer players and also become a platform for recruitment.”

Meanwhile, Gill also notes the pitch will be heavily valued amongst the community, given how easy it is for the Penelakut Tribe to access.

“The community has fully taken ownership of their new Mini-Pitch, utilizing this beautiful space for school based PE, the youth are out there training and playing 5V5 games three afternoons each week, and we are piloting a new H3 Little Champions Headstart program, in partnership with the daycare for 3-5 year olds."

Bill Yoachim, the executive director of the Kw’umut Lelum Child and Family Services, says "soccer has always been a part of Coast Salish communities and now with the addition of the mini-pitches, the passion for the sport will grow even stronger."

“This project is now almost in a way going to help revive the game. The five-a-side league in our communities is just going to be reviving the sport, bringing the kids and next generations together to hopefully create the pathway for young players,” said Yoachim.

Whitecaps FC, Hope and Health, and Kw’umut Lelum Child and Family Services will now look towards the opening of the second community mini-pitch for the Snuneymuxw First Nation, a First Nation of the Coast Salish People, located in the centre of Coast Salish territory on the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, and the Fraser River.

“It’s Hope and Health 10-year anniversary with Whitecaps FC. They’ve been alongside us as a partner and provided a lot of incredible opportunities. It made incredible sense that we continue to take this to the next level together,” says Gill.

“When the Whitecaps announced they were going to support this initiative, it showed how first class they are as an organization, and first class with making such a significant contribution that will absolutely make a real world impact in the lives of our Indigenous youth,” said Yoachim.

“It’s just amazing. I’m really honoured and thankful.”

In addition, the Penelakut Tribe mini-pitch was supported by the MLS Players Association who made a donation to Hope and Health, along with funds raised through Hope and Health’s “Tell the Truth. Be the Change.” orange shirt campaign, featuring meaningful artwork from Coast Salish artist and Penelakut Tribe member Maynard Johnny Jr.