Joel Harrison made his grandpa Charles, and the rest of his family proud Tuesday night.
The 17-year-old soccer player was among the eight recipients of the 2016 Premier’s Awards for Aboriginal Youth Excellence.
The awards ceremony — which included Kwantlen First Nation drummers and singers, and a feast — was held inside the Kwantlen Cultural Centre, on Kwantlen First Nation territory in Fort Langley.
A Walnut Grove resident, Harrison’s Aboriginal bloodlines are connected to his grandfather on his father’s side.
Charles’ father was Métis. The family’s original lineage comes from Manitoba.
Charles lives in Timmins, Ont., and was unable to attend the ceremony.
“It’s an honour just to be able to remember my ancestry and also be sort of rewarded, and always keep them [his ancestors] in the back of my mind,” said Harrison, who was accompanied by his parents, Kevin and Louise. “They have done so much for me, and helped my culture.”
“As parents, we are extremely proud of his accomplishments in soccer,” said Kevin.
“He has worked hard and made the most of all the opportunities that his sport has provided for him. Tonight was made special because it helped him connect with his Métis heritage and to appreciate the importance of where he comes from.”
A defender, Harrison attends Grade 12 at Burnaby Central Secondary – he switched from Walnut Grove Secondary in order to be part of the Whitecaps FC Residency program.
Harrison applied for the award but noted, “It’s one of those things you never really expect to win. It’s more of something you hope for, and when I got the email I was excited and proud.”
Looking toward the future, Harrison hopes to earn a degree and then hopefully pursue a professional soccer career.
The awards were presented by Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Stephanie Cadieux.
The Fraser region is the third of the Aboriginal Sport, Recreation and Physical Activity Partners Council’s six regions to honour Aboriginal athletes through a B.C.-wide awards program.
Working with the province, the council launched a regional nomination process in September and received more than 130 nominations from across the province for Aboriginal athletes aged 25 and younger.
The awards go to Aboriginal youth in recognition of their outstanding sport achievements and their commitment and dedication to higher education, culture, leadership, and community.
From those 130 nominees, 47 were chosen within the council’s six regions — Northeast, Northwest, Interior, Fraser, Vancouver Coastal, and Vancouver Island.
Harrison, from Métis Nation BC, was among the recipients.
He was joined at the Kwantlen Cultural Centre by:
• Corey Stewart, 24, para kayaking, Nisga’a and Tsimshian Nations;
• Hunter Lang, 15, softball, Ts’Kw’aylaxw First Nation;
• Mateya Haintz, 15, track and field, Hwlitsum First Nation;
• Keegan Charlie, 16, soccer, Sts’ailes and Musqueam Nations;
• Sadie Baird, 15, soccer, Tsawwassen First Nation;
• Kieran McKay, 17, lacrosse, Michel First Nation; and
• Shalaya Valenzuela, 17, rugby, Tseshaht First Nation.
Regional recipients automatically serve as nominees for the provincial awards.
A total of 12 provincial awards (six male, six female) will be selected in January 2017.
Provincial recipients will be presented with their award at Gathering our Voices National Aboriginal Youth Conference in Kelowna March 21 to 24, 2017.
During Tuesday’s ceremony, Kevin Kelly, husband of Kwantlen First Nation hereditary chief Marilyn Gabriel, spoke to visitors at the cultural centre.
“We welcome you to our home,” Kelly told the audience. “From chief and council, our elders, our Kwantlen members. I really want to thank the ones who do the work that you do, to let you know, how important it is for us as First Nations, to keep our children busy.”
“Our children today deserve a chance at whatever they do,” said Kelly.
“My wife always says as the leader, it’s our time for our people. Today is a day for our people, and it’s happening throughout not only B.C., but Canada.”