SMU welcomes Ryan Francis as first Indigenous Visiting Fellow
January 21, 2020
Ryan Francis has only been on campus for a couple of weeks and already he’s bringing new ways of thinking to Saint Mary’s, as the university’s first Indigenous Visiting Fellow. Starting with the Red Tape Game on January 22 in the Dauphinee Centre, between the men’s Huskies hockey team and the Acadia Axemen. The game aims to promote inclusion in ice hockey, with a ceremonial puck drop, Mi’kmaw flag raising and a special focus on Indigenous athletes and reconciliation themes.
Sport can be a unifying force and a meaningful way to connect with culture, says Francis, who grew up in Cole Harbour and is a member of the Acadia First Nation.
“For me, getting involved with the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships really connected me with my culture. I was always aware of my culture but growing up off reserve, I had that experience of sport really helping to connect me to my culture,” he says.
He played on Team Atlantic in the national championships in 2012 and has remained involved in various volunteer coaching capacities – currently as Head Coach for the women’s Team Atlantic program.
Even before his four-month fellowship began with the Faculty of Arts on January 1, Francis was working with Athletics & Recreation and the Centre for the Study of Sport and Health to organize the Red Tape Game. He’s also a key player as Saint Mary’s gears up to be one of the venues for the 2020 North American Indigenous Games, to be held in Kjipuktuk (Halifax) and Millbrook First Nation for the first time. The event is expected to bring more than 5,000 participants to Mi’kmaki this summer, with many staying and competing on campus.
Francis was an organizer for the 2019 Atlantic Indigenous Games, which took place at Saint Mary’s and included educational sessions along with the sport competitions. “It was really cool to see the opportunity that campus life gave to the participants,” he recalls. “We hosted some sessions in the McNally Auditorium and a few times as the kids walked into the space, they said ‘Oh, it’s just like the movies!’ They were able to experience what university was like and they got to imagine themselves in that setting. Not a lot of them had that opportunity before, so it was pretty special.”
He holds a Master of Physical Education degree from Memorial University, and a Bachelor of Science from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, with a major in sport management and minor in sport outreach. Now working as a Sport Consultant within the Communities, Sport, and Recreation Division of the Nova Scotia Department of Communities, Culture & Heritage, Francis coordinates education sessions with sport and recreation organizations across the province. He also leads the division’s Sport Hosting Program and initiatives on sport concussions, while supporting the government’s gender equity and Indigenous sport files. Previously, he worked with Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey, the Aboriginal Sport Circle, and in several roles with Sport Nova Scotia.
His fellowship runs through April 30. The new position builds on Saint Mary’s ongoing initiatives to engage with Indigenous communities, strengthen intercultural research and curriculum, and respond to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and our own university task force. Francis applied because he felt he could assist in making the academic environment a more welcoming place for Indigenous students, and he’s also intrigued by the research dynamic between athletics and academics.
“The Faculty of Arts was open to that and encouraged that. Recognizing the potential of sport and recreation in bringing people together and providing those intercultural lessons,” he says.
For his research, Francis is focusing on Indigenous youth and sport, with links to the Certificate in Health, Wellness, and Sport in Society. He is also coordinating the delivery of Indigenous coaching modules for on and off campus. These courses will cover such topics as dealing with racism in sport, and holistic approaches to coaching. Stay tuned for news about more upcoming events, projects and opportunities for discussion, and follow him on Twitter at @RyanFrancis58.