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National Indigenous Peoples Day Spotlight: Examining the Intersection of Soccer and Indigenous Cultures with a Health Promoter and Provincial Indigenous Soccer Team Head Coach

By Staff, 06/21/24, 4:30PM EDT


With a wealth of experience and knowledge on the intersections of health, sport, physical education, and Indigenous cultures, Ghislaine Goudreau shares her experience in the Ontario soccer community, coming off a year when she coached Team Ontario’s U19 girls Indigenous soccer team to a silver medal at the 2023 North American Indigenous Games.

Play. Inspire. Unite.

Ghislaine Goudreau, or “Coach G” for many in the Sudbury soccer community these days, is a lifelong sport fan and advocate for the powers of physical education within Indigenous communities.

Her sport journey began at the ripe age of five when her father put her into a local soccer team in Sudbury. Unfortunately, there were not any girls’ teams at the time, so she was forced to join a boys’ team. The lack of female representation eventually drove her to pursue baseball – a sport which did have a girls’ team.

It was not until high school when Ghislaine returned to soccer, joining the girl's team in her final years. It was at this time that Ghislaine realized how much she loved soccer and decided she could not leave the game again. After high school, Ghislaine joined a local women’s soccer league where she played for many, many years. She later got into coaching through her bachelor’s degree which had coaching requirements. After having two boys, coaching became a bigger focus, coaching both their teams over the year, and seeing the impact of her as a female and Indigenous coach was something she realized was incredibly valuable and powerful, and wanted to continue to pay it forward.

Being very proud of her heritage and seeing the lack of sport in Indigenous communities, coupled with the lack of Indigenous athletes in pro sports, it was also around this time that Ghislaine decided to devote her life to learning about the intersections of her culture and sport, and advocating for physical education in Indigenous communities given its powers within societies.

These days, Ghislaine’s professional and coaching careers have reached incredible heights. On the professional side, Ghislaine is currently the Professor of Indigenous studies at Cambrian College where she helped the school earn their second CICan (Colleges and Institutes Canada) Silver Award for Indigenous Education Excellence last year. CICan is a national organization that supports and advocates for Canada’s public post-secondary colleges and institutes

Next year, Ghislaine is looking forward to teaching a new course titled: Sport and Reconciliation.

The course will teach students about Traditional activities and sports and compare them to Western activities and sports,” said Ghislaine. “Students will also learn more about Indigenous sport heroes and how sports can be a vehicle to promoting Reconciliation with Indigenous People in our country – and I hope students will see the value in bringing in traditional practices and values into modern sports today.

On the pitch, Coach G also had an incredible year in 2023, leading Team Ontario’s U19 Girls Indigenous Soccer Team to a Silver Medal at the 2023 North American Indigenous Games, despite challenges with assembling a team and competing against teams with established programs. In fact, Coach G’s squad included girls from other disciplines like figure skating.

She attributes the team’s success to an appropriate health and training program that she instilled and the girls followed, and their ability to bond over their culture after establishing it as a key component of their team’s culture.

I created a program where we (coach and players) would meet weekly, and follow an indigenous program based on the Seven Grandfather Teachings,” said Ghislaine. “The Grandfather Teachings promote the values of Nibwaakaawin—Wisdom; Zaagi'idiwin—Love; Minaadendamowin—Respect; Aakode'ewin—Bravery; Gwayakwaadiziwin—Honesty; Dabaadendiziwin—Humility; and Debwewin—Truth.

The North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) is one of the largest sporting and cultural gatherings of Indigenous Peoples in North America. The 2023 Games were held in Kjipuktuk (Halifax) and in Millbrook and Sipekne'katik First Nations, Nova Scotia, on traditional and ancestral Mi’kmaw Territory, from July 15 to 23. The Games featured 5,000 participants from 756 nations with teams coming from Canada’s 13 provinces and territories and 13 regions from the United States.

The multisport Games for youths 13 to 19 years old, showcased unity, sport, culture, volunteerism and teamwork between First Nations, Métis, Inuit and Non-Indigenous communities. The Games were created to promote healthy lifestyles, strengthen self-image, and highlight Indigenous role models through sport and culture. The NAIG sport program features 16 sports including three traditional Indigenous sports: canoe/kayak, lacrosse, and 3D archery. [Source: Government of Canada]

You can say soccer runs in the family with the Goudreau’s as Ghislaine met her husband in the soccer community, and both her boys were given soccer balls as soon as they could walk. When asked, “When did you start playing soccer,” Ghislaine’s youngest son Cody had to ask his mom for confirmation as he was too young to remember himself.

“You started playing soccer at about three years old,” Ghislaine confirmed for Cody.

At 11 years old, Cody enjoys playing soccer for his local Rec Boys team, confirming his favourite team is PSG because his favourite soccer player, Lionel Messi, played for them a few years back. He did however explain that golf was his favourite sport and Stephen Curry was his favourite golfer, showing the boy's appreciation for multi-sport athletes and giving us a sneak peek into his possible future career as a professional golfer/soccer player.

Ghislaine’s older son Alex at age 14, has shown real promise in soccer having entered the competitive stream, but has decided to play Rec this year to open his schedule to allow for other activities. Alex is also a promising young multi-sport athlete, showing lots of talent in the sports of hockey, golf and long distance running, a skill that really benefits him in soccer.

I put my kids in soccer because it is an inexpensive sport that is accessible to most kids. And both my husband and I enjoyed playing it,” explained Ghislaine. “With them both going to be of age in two years, I’m really hoping they will get the opportunity to play in the 2027 Indigenous Games which will be held in Calgary. After attending the event last year, and seeing how enriching and inspiring the environment was, I’m really hoping my kids can experience it as well.




One of my greatest professional achievements came in coaching,” explains Ghislaine. “I once had a young Indigenous student, who ended up becoming a coach herself one day. Seeing her follow in my footsteps is something I will never forget.

Ghislaine credits soccer as a major and very positive part of her life, pointing to its global presence and multiculturalism as two factors that really set it apart from other sports. She even confirmed that her and her boys have never experienced any form of abuse due to their cultural background in soccer, but that they have in other sports. But soccer is not perfect as well, and when asked where can soccer improve? Ghislaine pointed to her recent experience with the Provincial team.

“There are plenty of young Indigenous soccer players and athletes out there, but finding girls to field our Provincial team was quite a struggle,” Ghislaine explained. “One issue we encountered was Clubs not wanting to release their players to participate in the tournament for fear of injuries, time away from their Club side, that sort of thing. I understand those things are important, but participating in the Indigenous Games will provide these athletes an experience they can’t get anywhere else - where culture and sport are interweaved, and where they have the opportunity to see a bunch of Indigenous role models on the big stage.”

Ghislaine also mentioned a registry of Indigenous players that Clubs would operate as a possible area that could offer improvements. She also spoke about the wish for more land acknowledgments at soccer events as a show of respect to those who occupied many of the areas used for soccer these days – and hopes to see some during the World Cup coming to Canada in 2026 as there will be global attention on the tournament.

When asked, “What does National Indigenous Peoples Day means to you,” Ghislaine laughed and joked that it’s National Indigenous Peoples Day for her every day, but spoke to it being an opportunity to reflect on the impact Indigenous peoples have had in our history and raising awareness of Indigenous cultures.