Raymond Fox is heading west to play soccer this summer.
The University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s soccer keeper and North Battleford product recently signed with the newly formed Nautsa’mawt FC in League1 BC, an adult open age pro-am soccer league established in 2021.
“It’s a chance to play at the highest level of soccer in Canada that’s not fully professional,” said Fox, a member of the Sweetgrass First Nation. “The development opportunity for myself personally is really huge and a chance for me to grow as a soccer player.
“Also just trying to inspire the next generation of Indigenous soccer players, Indigenous athletes, especially from a small reserve here in Saskatchewan.”
On Jan. 18th, League1 BC announced the transfer of ownership of Varsity FC to Hope and Health For Life Society, a non-profit that aims to increase access to sport for development and social impact opportunities with a focus on Indigenous children and youth. And with Fox having worked for Hope and Health in the past, it was fitting to have him as the first Indigenous player signing for the new team.
“They do some really amazing work with Indigenous communities using soccer as the vehicle for social change and impact,” said Fox. “They’re doing it with an Indigenous focus in mind. They’re recruiting Indigenous players and they want to see us succeed and see us at the next level.
“Teams like this and opportunities like this are opening the door and starting the conversation and really allowing us Indigenous athletes to aspire to something.”
Currently, an Arts and Science student at USask, Fox has plans to enter the Indian Teacher Education Program at the university.
“As soon as the season is done, I’ll be back here at the U of S,” said Fox, who has also been accepted to receive a Next Generation Indigenous Athlete Assistance Grant, which is funded by the Sask Lotteries Trust Fund and administered through Sask Sport.
In fact, the more soccer for Fox the better. And that’s been the case since first signing up to play soccer as a youth.
“Had I not been playing soccer, I probably wouldn’t be in university right now and learning the things that I am and being able to understand where I need to go with it,” said Fox. “Sports has always been my personal vehicle and avenue to get where I want to go.”
Along with being a busy student-athlete, Fox also helps run a non-profit organization called the Indigenous Sports Performance Institute, which has a goal of bridging the gap between high performance sports in Saskatchewan and Indigenous communities.
“It’s very much about building something and opening the door for the next generation of players to take it way farther than we can take it,” said Fox. “I’m trying to create a program that I feel like would have been beneficial to me at that age.”
Fox’s goal is also to ensure the program goes beyond creating opportunities in sport.
“Being able to create the safe and inclusive space for Indigenous athletes to come and learn about what it takes to be a high-level athlete but also learning about themselves and who they are as Indigenous people and how that’s a skill that that can take them a long way, whether that be in sports or just in life,” said Fox. “It’s (also) important that we prepare and we educate our Indigenous youth on some of the barriers that they may face.
“Making them aware and understanding that it’s not always going to be easy. You are going to face these things. It’s going to be really hard and to prepare them, I think is just as equally important.”
As for who helped Fox get to where he is today, among the people he credits is his dad, Ray.
“He worked hard for what he had and he was able to provide me the opportunity and the space to play and be very supportive of everything that I did,” said Fox.
Ethel Stone is another influential person in Fox’s life. He remembers Stone coaching a group of teenagers, picking them up in a 15-passenger van and taking them to various soccer tournaments.
“She would do so much for us at a young age – and it was all to keep us out of trouble because she knew what soccer was doing for us,” said Fox. “It was getting us out of our community, it was making us stay sober.
“She just created a lot of safe spaces for us and made us feel like we could go and play soccer when and wherever we wanted to and that was something that was really huge for me at a time that I really needed it.”
And while Fox tries to create that space for the next generation with his work at the Indigenous Sports Performance Institute, he hopes others will catch on to what his new team Nautsa’mawt FC is doing.
“I’m excited to see what other sports and what the next level of professional sports teams look like with an Indigenous focus in mind or Indigenous partnerships or Indigenous representation within those spaces looks like,” he said.
“I know that that we’re on a trajectory up. And I think that something that I’m really excited and it makes my heart feel good.”