Team Northwest Territories women’s hockey coach Shakita Jensen, from the Tahltan First Nation, is one of 11 participants in the Aboriginal Apprentice Coaching Program at this year's PEI 2023 Canada Winter Games.
The program was created in partnership with the Aboriginal Sport Circle and the Coaching Association of Canada to give Indigenous peoples greater opportunities in coaching by providing them with multi-sport Games experience.
Jensen’s love for hockey began at a young age. She was five when she first stepped onto the ice and has been playing ever since. She competed for her home territory at the Arctic Winter Games in 2012, 2014, and won gold with her teammates in 2016. She was selected for the Northwest Territories Canada Games team in 2015 but had to sit out due to injury. She now gets to represent Team Northwest Territories in a new way at the Canada Games.
“I feel super proud,” Jensen said, “I didn’t get to go to Canada Games in 2015 to represent Northwest Territories, so I’m super excited to get to now go as a coach and still represent and be a part of the team.”
Moving into coaching was an easy next step for her. She said as she aged out of minor hockey, she realized she wanted to be a coach to give back to the hockey community as it has given so much to her.
She began as an on-ice helper for her younger brother’s team, later becoming head coach due to a lack of coaches when COVID-19 hit. She also gained experience as an assistant coach for female hockey at the Arctic Winter Games in 2023. She thinks the program will support her further development as a coach.
“It’s giving me that firsthand experience of what the Games are like. I’m familiar from a player perspective, so now I can really see from a coach’s perspective,” Jensen said. “I’ve seen the amount of work it takes in creating team culture, team systems, getting the players on their fitness all year round, making sure everyone’s on the ice.”
Jensen has been coaching the Mary Brown’s U13 team of the Yellowknife Minor Hockey Association for three years. Last year, the team participated in the Orange Jersey Project after the minor hockey league reached out to her. The Orange Jersey Project is an initiative brought forward to bring attention to and participate in conversations with young athletes about the history of Indigenous peoples and residential schools in Canada.
The team wore orange jerseys with the number 87 on the back, for the 87th call to action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). It calls on governments, sports halls of fame, and other organizations to work alongside Indigenous peoples to educate the public on Indigenous athletes in history.
“I know schools provide training and there’s the Orange Shirt Project, so I was like, ‘why wouldn’t we do this in sport?’ It only makes sense because I think that sport does have accountability as well,” she said. “I was super excited to bring the project to the team and just have that open discussion, not just simply wearing an orange jersey but what it represents. To inform, educate, engage, and promote TRC and have the recognition of Indigenous athletes.”
Jensen said the Aboriginal Apprentice Coaching Program shows efforts to diversify spaces in sports from a coaching perspective. By having more diverse people in coaching positions, more young athletes are represented and might be encouraged to join.
“I think it opens up athletes to feel welcome," Jensen said. "Coaches are seen as mentors and leaders and having a diversified coaching staff opens up the participants to feel included. I think we can diversify sport a lot more than it is, I think we have a long way to go still, and we’re just starting to begin the steps towards the right direction."
Coaching at the PEI 2023 Canada Games will give her a chance to bring home to Northwest Territories everything she learned and experienced. She hopes to make a difference in the program at home.
“I would like to continue to bring a level of developmental hockey to my community and to the North just because I feel like we are at a disadvantage,” Jensen said. “We’re further away so it’s hard to compete and if you want that super high competition sport level you have to leave your community sometimes, so I would like to bring it here and have things in the North that people can still develop on.”
The Aboriginal Apprenticeship Coaching Program will allow her to do just that. Gaining the development experience and creating memories for a lifetime is true not just for athletes, but also for the coaching staff and everyone connected to the Canada Games. With her goal to spark greatness in the next generation of her hockey community, Jensen looks to PEI 2023 to continue her development as a coach and leader.