From left: Councillor Jason Nicholas, Indevelopment’s Reto Steiner, and Akisqnuk Chief Alfred Joseph turn the first soil for the new sports facility. Photo by Lorene Keitch

Akisqnuk First Nation building 22,400 square foot sports complex

Akisqnuk First Nation groundbreaking

The Akisqnuk First Nation broke ground last week on a 22,400 square foot sports complex that will be open to the public.

Council members, administrative staff, community members, and invited officials gathered last Friday, December 8th for the official groundbreaking for the facility, located beside the Akisqnuk band office on Hwy 93/95.

“This is a dream come true,” commented councillor Jason Nicholas, who emceed the event. He said that when he was a youth, the idea of a sports facility was discussed. Now as a councillor, it was still on the wish list for the community. When he ran for Council, Mr. Nicholas heard from the membership they wanted a healthier community. So Mr. Nicholas, alongside Heather Rennebohm, economic development officer, took the project from a dream to a reality over the last year and a half.

“Heather and I joined the Akisqnuk team at the same time,” Mr. Nicholas explained. “Both of us were eager to get something on the go. The rec centre had always been on the back burner; we decided to breathe some life into it.”

Ms. Rennebohm said this project has been on the minds of the community for a good 20 years. The band has actively saved for it over the past 12 years and now have $1 million earmarked for the facility.

“This past 18 months we’ve really been working in a very concentrated way on making absolutely sure that the community was engaged with this process, and doing feasibility studies on not just how we can build this centre but keep it running,” explained Ms. Rennebohm.

Akisqnuk members were polled on what they wanted to see in the facility. The completed rec centre will include space for a full soccer field, basketball and volleyball courts, a weight room, and an indoor elevated running track around the perimeter of the facility. A portion of the band hall will also move to the new facility, as they are overcrowded in the current building.

“It’s going to have a multi-purpose floor area almost the same size as an ice rink: 12,000 square feet of playing space, large enough for indoor soccer,” describes Ms. Rennebohm. “We’ll be the only facility in the East Kootenays that will have a regulation-sized indoor soccer field.”

The elevated running track, at 180 metres long, will allow people to watch games happening below, and allow running and walking in a safe and secure location year-round. The facility will be fully accessible, with a lift up to the mezzanine level.

Chief Alfred Joseph said for the Akisqnuk youth especially, this facility could be life changing.

“The focus for all these years has always been the youth, protecting of the youth from the unfavourable directions they could take,” Chief Joseph said to the Pioneer. “This will be a building for pride, for a positive achievement for the whole community, and I would say [it’s] a lesson in persistence of a dream.”

The design company, Indevelopments Corp. was also on hand at the groundbreaking.

“It’s going to be a game changer for the Akisqnuk Band and the community as a whole,” stated Reto Steiner.

Lorne Shovar was the chief until three months ago, when he took on the role of junior administrative officer. He also worked hard to see the project come to reality. He said after extensive community consultation, they realized it had to be more than just a gymnasium.

“We wanted to make sure it could be self-sustaining. That drove the design to accommodate different sports,” Mr. Shovar explained.

He sees this project benefiting the membership and the greater community.

“Right now if we have large events we’re pretty limited to being outdoors. Not only that but our community is rich in sports history. This gives winter dry land training area as well as there is a potential to make modest profits on an annual basis.”

Mr. Nicholas agrees, seeing a huge benefit to the greater Columbia Valley community.

“You can see all the youth soccer leagues in town and there’s not enough space for them, and in the winter there’s zero space for them. This will help the Valley a lot,” commented Mr. Nicholas.

The facility, which will be named later on through a contest within the Akisqnuk community, will reflect Ktunaxa culture, including an east-facing entryway and featuring a wall of fame of Akisqnuk athletes. There will be opportunities for a wide array of traditional Ktunaxa activities, both indoor and outdoor, at the facility, including horsemanship, archery, wild foods programs, and stick games.

The facility is estimated to cost $4.05 million, including utilities, installation, design phase, road and parking lot development and land clearing. With $1 million in reserves, the rest is being funded through grants and gifts.

The estimated opening date of the sports and recreation facility is August, 2018. There will be a membership drive some time in the spring, with early bird rates available.

The Akisqnuk First Nation are people of the Ktunaxa Nation, with close to 300 members. It borders Windermere to the north, Fairmont Hot Springs to the south, Lake Windermere to the west and the base of the Rocky Mountains to the east.

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