Canadian First Nations well represented at 2018 Winter Olympics

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Both casual and hardcore sports fans from across Canada will be glued to screens for 17 days in February as athletes from around the world come together in PyeongChang, South Korea, for the XXIII Olympic Winter Games.

From Catriona Le May Doan’s spectacular gold-medal performances in speedskating at the Nagano and Salt Lake City Games to Sidney Crosby’s golden goal in Vancouver eight years ago, Canadians have been thrilled by the exploits of Canadian athletes as they vie to own the podium.

First Nations athletes have played an important role in building Canada’s reputation as one of the world’s leading sporting nations. Alwyn Morris, a Mohawk from Kahnawake, stoked First Nations pride when he became the first Canadian Aboriginal athlete to win Olympic gold with his victory in men’s 1000-metre doubles kayaking at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

Morris’ success came over 70 years after Canada sent its first Aboriginal athletes to the Olympics.

Joseph Benjamin Keeper, a member of the Norway House Cree First Nation in Manitoba, traveled to Stockholm to represent Canada at the 1912 Summer Games. Raised in residential school in Brandon, Manitoba, Keeper discovered a passion for long-distance running at a young age, and finished fourth in the 10,000-metre race in Stockholm.

Keeper was joined in Stockholm by another young Cree, Alexander Decoteau, who placed sixth in the 5000 metres. Decoteau would later swap his athletic gear for a military uniform, enlisting in the Canadian Expeditionary Force at the height of the First World War, and was among the 15,000 Canadian soldiers killed during the Second Battle of Passchendaele in 1917.

Twin sisters Shirley and Sharon Firth competed in Olympic cross-country skiing for Canada on four occasions between 1972 and 1984. Members of the Gwich’in First Nation in the Northwest Territories, the sisters amassed a combined 79 medals in national championship competition during a 17-year tenure with Canada’s national cross-country ski team, and were the first Indigenous women to be inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.

More recently, Canadian Indigenous athletes bringing home Olympic hardware include hockey players Theo Fleury and Carey Price, while Métis curler Carolyn Darbyshire-McRorie claimed silver in 2010.

As of this publication date, a large number of Canadian Olympic team members have yet to be named. However, Canada’s First Nations communities will be represented in PyeongChang by at least two elite athletes, including hockey player Brigette Lacquette and curler Kevin Koe.

Recognized alongside his family by the Aboriginal Sports Circle of the Northwest Territories for their commitment to developing the sport of curling in northern communities, Koe will act as skip for the men’s curling rink representing Canada in South Korea.

The 42-year-old brings a wealth of international experience to his first Olympic appearance, including gold medal wins at the 2006 and 2010 World Curling Championships, and a trio of gold medal victories at the Brier as a member of Team Alberta.

Koe leads a world class curling squad that features Marc Kennedy, Brent Laing, Ben Hebert and Scott Pfeifer, who have won a combined 11 World Championships and two Olympic gold medals.

After being one of the final cuts prior to the 2014 Sochi Games, Lacquette impressed during Canada’s women’s national hockey team’s run-up to the 2018 Olympics.

The 25-year-old member of Saskatchewan’s Cote First Nation tallied one point while patrolling the blue line during the team’s recent four-game series with the archrival Americans, and is expected to enjoy plenty of time on the top pairing alongside star defenceman Laura Fortino, who set up Marie-Philip Poulin’s gold medal-winning goal four year ago in Sochi.

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