An Indigenous girls basketball team from northern Manitoba scored a slam dunk after four months of fundraising efforts enabled them to practice with a Toronto Raptor and play in a Toronto basketball tournament.

This is an opportunity that players from the remote First Nation’s community of God’s Lake Narrows just don’t get, said the team’s coach Kishma Davidson.

“It’s going to show them that dreams do come true and it’s also going to show them that determination does work and working hard and having a dream, no matter where you’re from, who you are, if you put your mind to it, you can achieve it,” she explained.

In November, Davidson, who is also the girl’s junior high math teacher at God’s Lake Narrows First Nation School, launched a Go Fund Me campaign.

The team wanted to raise $17,000 so 15 players between the ages of 11 and 14 from the remote First Nation’s community of God’s Lake Narrows could play at the IEM Midget Girls basketball tournament in Newmarket, Ont. on April 1 and 2.

The girls didn’t just need plane tickets and the funds to cover the cost of accommodation in Toronto; they also needed more basic items, including jerseys and new basketball shoes.

Tragedy ignites motivation, coach says

The fundraising effort for this began a week after tragedy rocked the team.

On Nov. 20, a 14-year-old girl on the team, Harmony Okemow, took her life.

“Originally we spoke to the team about going to Toronto and she was there in the meeting,” Davidson said. “That weekend I decided to start a sponsorship package and the Monday we found out she passed away.”

After that, Davidson told CP24 she decided to throw herself into getting the team to Toronto.

“It was more motivation, ammunition to get the girls here because I think it just shows them other things are possible, and sometimes I tear up and think, ‘I wish she was here too to experience this,’ but I tell all the girls they’re here now and I want to ensure they stay here,” she explained.

‘Lifetime impression’

As of March 30, the God’s Lake Narrows Wolverines had raised $17,195.

“I’m so grateful for this opportunity and I think it’s going to have a lifetime impression on them,” she said. “I know it already has because I’ve had a few girls cry just getting off the flight – Just to see the love and support, they’re shocked because we’re just a little town. We never thought this would be possible.”

The community is located on an island, 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg, and is only accessible by plane.

Now this group of 15 girls practiced with Toronto Raptor Cory Joseph on Thursday afternoon, they are taking in sweeping views of Toronto’s horizon of skyscrapers from the CN Tower tonight, are sitting front row while the Toronto Raptors take on the Indiana Pacers tomorrow night, and then are competing against four teams in the IEM Tournament over the weekend.

This experience has had a profound impact on the girls, Davidson told CP24.

Many of the girls have never been outside their community, and all have never left Manitoba.

“Even just the escalators, they’re like trying to get on it really slow. Little things like that they see and they’re super excited,” Davidson said. “We went to Popeyes for dinner and walking in was like amazing because where we’re from there’s no buildings, we just have houses, and there’s only one store, one school, we go fishing, hunting it’s very country-feel type of living.”

“Now they get to see the city life, which is great to have two experiences.”

‘Take my mind off of everything’

Basketball is more than just a sport for these girls, it’s a lifeline, Davidson said.

“I just want to do this to keep me occupied,” said Embriel Hastings.

“Whenever I’m in a bad mood, I’ll dribble a ball,” Kiera Hill added. “It’ll just take my mind off of everything.”

Their teammate, Gabrielle Snowbird has been playing basketball for two years.

The 12-year-old says she was most struck by the buildings, “especially the CN Tower” when they arrived in the city yesterday.

“All the buildings” made a similar impression on Kiersten Watt.

This afternoon Watt was at a practice unlike any she’s ever had.

The 12-year-old first began dribbling the ball last year, because she simply just “wanted to try the sport.”

Now she’s scoring baskets with Toronto Raptor Cory Joseph, who gave her pointers on her lay ups.

“I think a lot of the skills that you learn in this game can be transferred into life,” said Joseph. “This game brings people together, it brings communities together… It’s such a small community that they’re from that this game was able to bring them all the way here to Toronto.”

“It means a lot, it feels like it’s a dream come true for them,” Davidson said.