Dominic Beaudry believes by sharing Ojibwe language and culture in a positive way, including translating the Raptors’ “We The North” slogan into the language, advances social justice. Photo courtesy of Dominic Beaudry

Sudbury teacher mines sport for justice

By 
  • August 1, 2020

Sports enthusiast and Indigenous language educator Dominic Beaudry doesn’t pass up an opportunity for a teachable moment on or off the field of play.

A huge Toronto Raptors’ fan, the teacher at St. James Catholic Elementary School in Lively, Ont., sparked attention last year when he translated the NBA champions’ “We The North” slogan into Anishinaabemowin or Ojibwe. The translation, Kiinwi Giiwedinong, was posted to his social media during the team’s storied 2019 run to the NBA title.

“My approach has always been to put Ojibwe language out there in a positive way,” said Beaudry, who has been posting his videos for students and parents on the Sudbury Catholic District School Board’s Indigenous Education Facebook page. “That’s our way of trying to ensure social justice is looked at (and it’s recognized that) Indigenous people do belong. Any time you can share your culture and your language in a positive way, that’s the best of culture.”

He and his students have helped share that culture within the Sudbury community. Last year his students performed the national anthem in Ojibwe at homes games of the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves and the Sudbury Five of the National Basketball League of Canada.

Beaudry has been active in promoting Indigenous culture throughout the pandemic by posting videos where he translates household items into Ojibwe as a way of teaching and encouraging children to practise speaking the language in the home. It carries on a lifelong dedication to Indigenous education that has seen him recognized for his commitment, including being honoured in 2016 as Laurentian University’s Native Education Person of Distinction for his work fostering Indigenous educational aspiration.

A former professor of Indigenous studies at Seneca College in Toronto, Beaudry moved north to Sudbury three years ago to be closer to his home of Wikwemikong, where for 17 years he was a teacher, principal and director of education with the Wikwemikong Board of Education. In addition to teaching, he is also an Anishinaabe language facilitator assisting staff in integrating positive Anishinaabe language and culture into classrooms.

Superintendent of Education Rosella Bagnato said Beaudry’s work is building bridges in the journey towards truth and reconciliation by ensuring other teachers make Indigenous language and culture a priority.

“For Dominic it’s about speaking the language but also understanding the history in the context of current events,” said Bagnato. “There are a lot of things that still need to be done (in the journey towards healing), but there is hope. The only way to have hope is to have students that understand their culture, that can speak their language and that can help us to continue on our path of reconciliation.”

“I work for the Sudbury Catholic District School Board and a lot of the things in the Bible talk about how all men are created equal and we have to treat each other with respect and with dignity,” said Beaudry. “You can use religion and also culture to support a lot of the social justice issues that are currently in the media. I think it’s a good time for change.”

Beaudry enjoys the opportunities to bring attention to the beauty of culture in the journey towards social justice and equality.

Beaudry looks beyond just Indigenous issues when it comes to the fight against racism. He supports the efforts of the NBA, its players and teams in spreading the message against racism. With the Raptors scheduled to play the Los Angeles Lakers in the restart season opener on Aug. 1 after league play was halted March 12 due to the coronavirus, they’ll play on a court with the words “Black Lives Matter” painted inside the sidelines. All three arenas in the Orlando, Fla., NBA bubble will carry the message. The Raptors also opted to paint the message on the team bus.

When it comes to anti-Black racism, said Beaudry, it’s not about “quick fixes” but the need to truly learn to “treat each other as human beings.”

With the Black Lives Matter movement bringing all forms of discrimination under the spotlight, Beaudry says the conversation has also helped to move the needle forward on Indigenous issues.

There have long been calls for sports teams to do away with their Indigenous names, logos and mascots on the grounds that they are offensive. Mounting pressure and threats from companies to pull their sponsorships saw the Washington Redskins in July announce the intention to change the team name. The Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL followed the NFL team’s lead as well, announcing July 21 that it would choose a new name.

Beaudry recalls being in the stands at a Toronto Blue Jays game years ago with his children when he overheard Atlanta Braves fans making disparaging comments about “Indians” and says it’s just not acceptable. (The Braves have not made the move to change the team name, but will consider eliminating its infamous “tomahawk chop” at games.)

“I’ve always felt uneasy, attending sports games and seeing (Indigenous people) being portrayed as mascots or the negative imagery,” said Beaudry. “It’s 2020 and I think it’s time to move forward and treat all humans with respect and dignity.”

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