Playing For Keeps: Carson Roche’s Connections Through Sport
While Carson Roche teaches play and games, he takes the work he does as the program coordinator at the Aboriginal Sports Circle of the Northwest Territories seriously. His enthusiasm is contagious. “I've been here for just over two years and I don't plan on leaving. I love my job and it's going awesome so far,” he shared with excitement.
Originally from a small town, Délı̨nę, which was called Fort Franklin in Northwest Territories. An hour and a half flight from the capitol city, t’s a town of 400 people. Isolated, remote and primarily populated by Indigenous people, Roche left in grade eight to get a better education. Now, he lives in Yellowknife doing work he loves after being introduced as a summer student.
I loved what they were doing in the communities and I saw that they're making change. My main goal with work is just to make change in the community.
Roche graduated and landed his dream job where he’s had amazing experiences. “Grise Fiord, Nunavut was my favorite place I've been to just because it's so far north. It took days to get there and six flights. Once we got there, you can tell it's very isolated. They don't get in a lot of contacts from the outside world, just because it's so far north and it's so expensive to get there,” he recounted.
"Me coming from a community and get my degree, and then bringing it back to work, it allows me to reach out to all the communities, not just my hometown and, and just be a role model and help change. The Sports Circle, that's their main focus, changing the communities.”
Getting to introduce sports to the community was exciting. “Once I got there, and I started teaching these traditional games, they were really excited and they got into it. I was there for about four or five days, and by the third day, everyone was enjoying it and really got out of their shell and tried new things,” Roche relayed.
Roach watched the community gain new skills, recalling, “We hosted a little mini tournament and one of the games we threw was the one foot high kick. Some of these kids have never kicked before and they're kicking higher than me and I've been teaching it and it was nuts.”
He saw how those games brought people together. “One of the guys' dads was kicking with his son. You just see that bond there, and they're both just kicking higher and higher and higher.” The organization left equipment behind so they could keep playing.
Growing up in a small town, you're faced with a lot of challenges such as drug use and just getting into trouble. I always found sports as a way to get out of it, hockey in the winter, soccer in the summer, softball, whatever you can do in a town of 400 people.
Sports in that setting took creativity, like football in the snow and building a makeshift golf course with things found at a garbage dump. That improvised sports experience led to a passion for Roche.
He played on his first golf course in Fort Smith, then played every summer, got a membership and tried out for the university team where he was well coached. He learned to play and to make a difference.
Sports in the university were just a way to stay active, keep my mental health in check and engage with other people. My main focus for going to school was just to get a degree and make my way back up north and, and spread my knowledge with the communities.
Leaving home to pursue his dreams was challenging. “Being from a small community, you don't have access, you're not traveling for tournaments. You're not going on school trips. It's just so far north. Once you do leave, it's hard to break that shell. When I got to university, I wish someone told me to join all the clubs, go to all the events, make friends and just put yourself out there,” he remembered.
His advice for youth leaving home is a message of hope: “Don't be afraid that that's one thing that helped me, just stepping out of your shell and don't be afraid of anything. Stay active, go to the gym, join any team or rec league.”
“Just know that your hometown, it's always your home. So when you go back, everyone welcomes you back and then they're really proud of you. Every time I go back, it still feels like home and I love going home.”
In his hometown, his mom inspired him. “She was a cop back in the day with the strict rules, and she always encouraged staying in school. I made my way through school and she was always pushing me and always challenged me with everything,” he said.
Going to university, my mom was always there anytime I needed help. I always looked up to her and see what she's done with the community of Délı̨nę. She's the band manager there, and she coordinates all the events. She's almost like the chief there. I just look up to her a lot as a role model.
Roche knows his mom guided his journey, but she didn’t do it alone. It takes a village to raise an athlete who would later come home to help create change. “With the help of my friends and their support, they helped me get through everything I've gone through,” Roche explained.
Pursuing sports and sharing them was a gamechanger for Carson Roche and for the communities where he’s made an impact. Learning to innovate, persevere and have fun carried life lessons that would change not just his life but the lives of everyone his work has touched. Rooted in games, Carson Roche approaches each challenge like he’s playing for keeps and that has made all the difference for himself and others.
Thanks to Alison Tedford for writing this article.
Dec 2021 update: Carson is now the Events Manager for ASCNWT and organizes and runs some of ASCNWTs major events throughout the year, focusing on community development and showcasing Indigenous northern athletes.
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