In a world where cultural identity and athletic pursuits often intersect, there are remarkable individuals who not only excel in team sports but also strive to advocate for inclusive spaces.
Among these leaders, one youth advocate stands out as a shining example, forging a path that combines their passion for sports with a dedication to their mental wellness.
She has excelled as a multi-sport athlete, showcasing her athletic abilities in football, track and field, and traditional Indigenous games. Alicia Gladue, a bold and ambitious young athlete, has been using her platform to raise awareness on important social issues and was recently inducted into the Wood Buffalo 2023 Arctic Winter Games Indigenous Sports Gallery.
Representing Team Alberta North in the Wood Buffalo 2023 Arctic Winter Games, Alicia showcased not only her athletic courage but also her deep-rooted connection to her Dene and Cree heritage. While she had prior experience in Dene Hand Games, participating in other traditional activities was a new endeavour for her. Despite any self-doubt, Alicia embraced the challenge, determined to give her best in the finger pull and snow snake events. These traditional games serve as a means to strengthen kinship bonds, transmit ancestral knowledge, and celebrate community unity.
Alicia’s Symbolic Stand for Change
As one of the torchbearer representatives for the community of Fort McKay, Alicia carries the responsibility of honouring her cultural traditions and sharing her gift of advocacy with others. By incorporating the red handprint symbol into her image during the sporting events, Alicia highlights how participation in political statements can bring attention to an epidemic problem like Missing, Murdered and Exploited Indigenous People (MMEIP), which continues to be overlooked or underreported. Alicia was not surprised by the number of people that have asked her what the red handprint symbolizes.
She shares, “People do not actually know the extent of racism that we as Indigenous women go through every day, even though the statistics are out there. It is a depressing topic to talk about, but me being fearful of walking alone in public is a common experience and that is always on my mind,” Nonetheless, Alicia strives to do her part by standing tall and mobilizing support by leveraging her influence or media coverage.
Leading With Cultural Respect
Alicia’s dedication extends beyond the Arctic Winter Games to the football field, where she has been a standout linebacker for the Fort McKay Northern Spirits, holding the captain title for four consecutive years. In recent seasons, her leadership qualities have shone through as she initiated smudging circles with her team before games, even welcoming the opposing team when they asked to join.
Her actions encourage athletes, coaches, and fans to proactively understand cultural differences and promote good sportsmanship both on and off the field. Alicia’s upbringing included the normalcy of smudging at home, with sage or sweetgrass lit each morning or as a family ritual before embarking on long trips.
Alicia laughs, “I think at one point there were about sixty to seventy people in a circle! Working with spiritual energy is no joke but I have my Mom to thank for guiding me since I was small. Ceremony just kind of resets my entire being whenever I need to find balance again.”
Alicia’s Bright Future
Alicia has already completed her high school diploma requirements ahead of schedule and was a recipient of two Regional Aboriginal Recognition Awards this year. She has expressed interest in motivational speaking opportunities and wants to develop her public speaking skills.
Through engaging presentations and public speaking engagements at local schools, Alicia can connect with her student audience and effectively communicate complex topics. Whether competing at regional football tournaments or representing Team Alberta North in the Arctic Winter Games, she has consistently integrated her cultural pride into her athletic pursuits.
Alicia’s actions encourage others to learn more about the overall advocacy movement, and I applaud her bravery as increased attention and public support generated by these statements may lead to the allocation of resources addressing the underlying causes of violence stemming from systemic oppression. For Alicia, competitive sports during high school proved to be a positive outlet for her teenage years but she plans to shift priorities to pursue post-secondary Communication studies.