Contracted by NTHSSA through the Northern Counselling and Therapeutic Services (NCTS), Monique Smith is a counsellor who has been volunteering after work and during school hours to establish a wrestling program in Ulukhaktok, Gameti, and Wekweètì. Having reached out to Sport North, her goal is to have students from each school participate in the Arctic Winter Games and the North American Indigenous Games.
“I took on this endeavour with the understanding that the more touch points I have with students outside of the counselling office, the more opportunity I have to increase trust with students/the community. I also believe in the power of play and that participation in sports can greatly improve mental health. As a former varsity wrestler, sport played a significant role in my life, so I love to share my love of the sport with others as well. “
Her desire to bring wrestling to northern communities comes from Leah Ferguson, Monique’s best friend who represented Canada in the 2012 London Olympics for wrestling and helped establish wrestling programs with Indigenous communities in Manitoba.
Monique began coaching wrestling practices in Ulukhaktok last year with support from the principal and two teachers who were interested in assistant coaching. “It was a great turn out and there was a lot of enthusiasm!”
Finding initial success in introducing wrestling to students in the communities, Sport North and Monique received a grant for wrestling mats that have now been brought to Ulukhaktok. “In order to create a sustainable model in Ulukhaktok, I am using Leah's model of teaching non-wrestlers how to coach wrestling, and using the "Power of Play" model to help train athletes. To that end, I already have two local teachers who are willing to help assist wrestling practices, an RCMP member's wife, Kait Unger (a former varsity basketball player) who is willing to teach athletic skills, and a local from the community who shared that he would like to become a wrestling coach despite not knowing how to wrestle. I told him that if he signed up as a school volunteer, I would be happy to work with him and train him. I'm excited that the wrestling program can continue to exist beyond my visit and work in Ulukhaktok. ”
Monique plans to escort wrestling team members from Ulukhaktok to the Arctic Winter Games Territorial trials in Yellowknife, December 7th-11th.