For the first time ever, B.C. golfers who identify as Inuit, Metis or First Nation will compete against each other at the inaugural Indigenous Golf Championship.
And a Vancouver Island woman is front-and-centre in making it happen.
Scheduled for the May 26 weekend, the tournament will take place at the Osoyoos Indian Band-owned Nk’Mip Canyon Desert Golf Course.
A total of 128 men, women and youth will compete in an event that promises to be competitive and fun.
“As a competitive golfer and Indigenous woman, I am looking very much forward to the blending of competition and reconciliation at the same event,” said Christina Spence Proteau, a Port Alberni golfer and chair of the organizing committee. Proteau will also be golfing in the tournament.
“I am proud to be working where our event will promote Indigenous engagement in competitive golf,” she said.
The championship had been a dream of former chair of BC Golf, T’esots’en (Patrick Kelly).
“It will provide an exciting opportunity for Indigenous golfers to walk together in the joy of sport, camaraderie, and oh yes, a bit of spirited competition,” he said.
For Spence Proteau, the tournament represents a chance to step up in her role as a British Columbia Golf board member, as well as to speak up about her personal heritage. Spence Proteau has Indigenous history on her late father’s side of the family.
“I’m proud of that,” she said.
Spence Proteau competed at the North American Indigenous Games for Team BC in 1997, when she was in middle school. “I used to compete in the (Nuu-chah-nulth) Tlu-piich Games in fast pitch,” she explained. “It’s an important piece of my heritage on my father’s side.”
She hasn’t always spoken publicly about it as her golf career has taken off.
“Golf is one of those sports that can be kind of elitist,” she explained. “The great thing about golf is the golf course has no idea who you are or where you’re from. Whoever is best, wins.”
She recalled competing in a Canadian championship one year and an article was written about an Indigenous golfer. She realized “this is something people need to know.”
The youth division will serve as final qualifying event for golfers who are vying to represent B.C. at the 2023 North American Indigenous Games set in Halifax, Nova Scotia in July. “That’s exciting to have that youth component involved and grow the game in an area where there has been under-representation,” Spence Proteau said.
The tournament will begin with an official practice round on May 26 before the 36-hole event kicks off on the Saturday. Champions will be crowned in men and women’s gross, men and women’s net Stableford and a youth (under 19) division.
“We feel extremely honoured and proud to be the first in B.C. to host such a prestigious event as the Indigenous Championship British Columbia. We are hopeful that this event will provide many great memorable moments for all who participate, whether they compete, organize or volunteer,” said Dave George, Nk’Mip general manager and Osoyoos Band member.
Last year, Golf Ontario hosted their inaugural Indigenous Golf Championship and will host their second championship later this summer. The Ontario and B.C. events will each qualify golfers to compete in a national event to take place in late 2023 at Bear Mountain Resort in Langford.
Golfers can register until April 28. For more information, visit britishcolumbiagolf.org.
— With files from Susie Quinn, Alberni Valley News