The young women’s basketball team at Gods Lake Narrows First Nation School in Manitoba is dealing with the recent suicide of a teammate, named Harmony Okemow, and has started a fundraising campaign in her memory.
The fundraising campaign, called “Hoop Dreams” would see the under-funded, under-equipped group outfitted with proper shoes, uniforms, and airline tickets to take part in the Gladiators Cup Tournament in Toronto next April.
“Just going on that trip would probably bring us much closer than we are now,” says Paige Okemow, Harmony’s cousin. “When we get there we will play hard for Harmony. We will try our best to win for her.”
The fundraising goal of $17,000 will allow the team of 18 young women, aged 11 to 16, to purchase the needed supplies, along with airline tickets and accommodation for 10 team members in this once-in-a lifetime opportunity for the remote First Nations school. The campaign will also honour the memory of Harmony, who tragically took her life in November at the age of 14.
Kishma Davidson, a math teacher, is coaching the team, and said, “We have enthusiastic players who would love to develop their skills this year. However, our team lacks many basic items such as basketball shoes and uniforms. As most of our students come from low-income families, they have been deprived of opportunities that many other teenagers their ages are fortunate to enjoy.”
Given the remote location of the fly-in community, Davidson notes, “Many of our students have never flown outside of Manitoba, which has limited the team’s ability to play against other teams outside of the community. We would love to give our students the opportunity to travel to other communities not only to improve their basketball skills but to expose them to different cultures.”
Davidson notes that remote First Nations communities often only make it into the news to report on tragedies; while this campaign springs from a painful loss, good can come from it.
“This is an opportunity to transform a lot of the pain these girls are suffering into a program that will not only build skills and self-esteem, but create hope too.”
Davidson is hoping that schools in the Winnipeg area as well as in southern Ontario will be willing to reach out to and partner with her school.
“Young people are so creative and resourceful, even when they face the mountain of challenges that are posed by being teenagers. It seems that if sports teams and the student populations at large in those schools did things like holding a raffle or a bake sale fundraiser to help students from Gods Lake Narrows make it to the tournament, it would create the kinds of partnerships and friendships that strengthen young people and give them a sense of real accomplishment.”
Similar pairings of northern and southern schools have resulted in important educational opportunities and connections that have been mutually beneficial as young people learn the history behind today’s headlines about Truth and Reconciliation.
Student Kiera Hill is hoping that once the funds are raised, she will play in memory of her beloved teammate Harmony.
“I want to make her proud,” says Hill. “Even though she is not here physically I still want to make her proud. She was the star on the team and she always had a smile on her face. We want to make her smile even bigger now that she is in heaven. So please sponsor us if you can. It will make our day if you do!”
For more information on the group’s progress visit, www.gofundme.com/hoop-dreams-glns-to-ontario.