Claude Bédard, 4th Dan, Chief Instructor at the Chibougamau Shotokan karate club.
For the past three years, I’ve witnessed a growing interest in karate from the Native communities near Chibougamau (Mistissini and Oujé-Bougoumou). We now have more than 25 native members aged 6 to 50 training two or three times a week, and as many women as men.
At first, in the fall of 2000, three people from Mistissini joined our club: Joseph Blacksmith, James Wapachee and Pierre Shecapio. I was surprised that they would travel a 134 kilometre round trip for each training session. I soon realized they would go far in karate with the assiduity and the effort they were putting into it.
They also seemed to enjoy the classes. I was right: they now have reached advanced levels. Joseph got his brown belt (just two steps before the black) and James got his purple belt (just a step before brown). Unfortunately, Pierre had to stop temporarily for health reasons.
Another example comes from Oujé-Bougoumou: karate is very present in the Hughboy family as their four children practice karate. Tonia, the oldest, has been doing karate for three years and reached the level of junior brown belt a year ago. Her mother, Cynthia Wapachee, says Tonia loves karate. She practices at home and will probably obtain her black belt before she turns 16.
With time, the interest shared by these Crees spread to others in their community and since then, each year, more Natives join our karate club. I am very proud of them, because those karatekas have a healthy way of life, free of alcohol and tobacco and are very conscious of their health and well being. They are a great example for all of us. I am pleased to see that with all our karate members (130 in all) there is harmony and great respect between natives and non-natives in the club.
The native members have participated in many training camps with the great Japanese masters, in Chibougamau, Montreal and Hull. They also did very well in competition in Chibougamau, Lac St-Jean and Val d’Or. Joseph Blacksmith obtained his brown belt in a three-day winter camp in Montreal this past February. It is the first time a Native adult reached that level in the Chibougamau area. I am sure he will soon obtain his black belt. I also believe he has the talent and the competence to one day open a karate school in Mistissini.
He will have my complete collaboration and surely also the help from James Wapachee, Willy Loon and George Matoush, three members very active in our karate club.
Congratulations to all and long live the martial arts!