Wilton ‘Willie’ Littlechild has been a champion of Indigenous athletes and sport for nearly five decades and was recognized nationally this week.
The 74-year-old, who grew up in Maskwacis, was given one of the highest honours in sport when he was inducted as a builder into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame on Thursday. Also inducted in the 2018 class were Dr. Sandra Kirby and six athletes (Jeff Adams, Damon Allen, Mary Baker, Chandra Crawford, Alexandre Despatie and Dave Keon).
“It was a moment for a lot of gratitude. When one goes from a residential school to the Canada Sports Hall of Fame, there’s a lot of people that help during the way,” he said on Thursday, before acknowledging the help he’s received from his family including his grandparents, his wife, Helen, his children and grandchildren.
Over the years, Littlechild has been an athlete, coach and mentor. But he said it was a dream come true, and one of his proudest moments was the World Indigenous Games. The Games were first played in Brazil in 2015.
“It took me 38 years to live that dream. When I first introduced the resolution in Sweden, it was 38 years in the making. Then to finally realize them in Brazil of all places, it really sticks out as a testament to never giving up on a dream,” he said.
“Then to have it at home, hosted in Canada last year, was just sort of icing on the cake.”
He also helped create the North American Indigenous Games in 1990.
From his early days, it was his grandparents that instilled in him the importance of giving back, said Littlechild.
As a role model, organizer and advocate for Indigenous sport, Littlechild explained what mostly kept him motivated over his five decades of contribution was his grandparents’ example, which stayed with him throughout his life..
“I was taught as a young boy from my grandfather to always give back to the community in the best way I could,” he said.
“When I found sport and what it meant to me and my life – in school and through university, that teaching of helping community was always loud and clear in my mind as a motivator throughout my whole life … including my grandmother who encouraged me to never forget about the spiritual importance of our life.”
Littlechild earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Education from the University of Alberta in 1967, followed by a Master’s Degree in 1975. In 1976, he was also the first Treaty First Nation person in Alberta to become a lawyer.
Through sport at U of A, Littlechild spent the majority of his time giving back and boosting up Aboriginal athletes including organizing the first all-Indigenous junior hockey team in Alberta.
In 1967 and 1974 he earned the Tom Longboat Award, which recognized the most outstanding Aboriginal athletes and their contributions to sport in Canada.
Looking back on it all Thursday, given the tragic events in Humboldt and around the world recently, Littlechild said he was grateful that Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame allowed him to recognize how sport can help strengthen our communities and our country.
“They allowed me to really acknowledge the power of sport to heal and you know the challenges we’ve had in our communities the last few months and weeks,” said Littlechild.
“The testament to the power of sport to bring us together and to heal and to pray, I wanted to thank (Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame) for acknowledging that. Secondly, to thank them for not only promoting but advancing peace and reconciliation and the spirit of sport to be able to do that.”