Player Profiles - September 2021

September 29 2021

Mariah Charleson
© Lorne Collicutt

Interview with Mariah Charleson, Rugby Player, Coach and Vice-President of Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council

BCRN: Hi Mariah, when did you first pick up a rugby ball and learn the game?

Mariah: I first picked up a rugby ball in grade 8 at Shawnigan Lake School, so I was 13. I fell in love instantly.

BCRN: Who are some of the teammates and coaches that influenced your rugby journey?

Mariah: 2 coaches stand out for me, Mr. Felix and Mr. Dukelow from Shawnigan Lake School. I grew up on such a small and remote reserve that didn’t even have a high school or even a field. Shawnigan was a whole new world to me. I found acceptance in rugby and that started from the coaches who helped me become the best player I could be. These coaches believed in me from day one and always provided me the opportunity to play my best rugby. Both Mr. Felix and Mr. Dukelow taught me skills that stick with me to this day: work hard, don’t cut corners, hit hard, run straight, show up early and ready.

BCRN: What's your best rugby memory?

Mariah: My favourite rugby memory has to be going on rugby tour to England and Wales. We did the tour during spring break, played 4 games, and attended an international game Wales vs Ireland (sitting front row). It was a complete blast. One of our games in Wales was under flood lights as we played in the evening, I’ll never forget that. Our coach vowed to sing to us after every win that trip as well. So many good memories. Lots of kangaroo court that trip.

BCRN: You've played and coached for Thunder Indigenous Rugby and you also play club rugby with Nanaimo Hornets. From a player's and coach's perspective what are the benefits of playing rugby, for both youth and adults?

Mariah: There are loads of benefits assisting in helping the youth engage with the game of rugby as well as playing as an adult. It’s always good to see Indigenous youth thriving in a positive environment. I think Indigenous youth are still a bit of an untapped resource when it comes to rugby due to the lack of exposure in many of our communities, I love to see Thunder rugby reaching out to these youth.

As an adult player, the Hornets have accepted me since day 1 and I’ll always love suiting up in black and yellow. Some of the benefits of playing and coaching youth rugby and adult rugby is the camaraderie, fitness, and sisterhood. Life long connections and friends are made on the rugby pitch.

BCRN: I notice on your profile you're a guide at Hooksum Outdoor School in Tofino. The website states it focuses on "quality outdoor and environmental education through traditional indigenous knowledge". Can you tell us more about the school and your role?

Mariah: Sure, my parents actually own and operate Hooksum Outdoor School and it’s located in Hesquiaht territory in a place called Ayisaqh. It takes roughly 1.5-2 hours on a speed boat to get there from Tofino, weather dependent. I grew up in Hot Springs Cove which is a Hesquiaht reserve accessible only by water taxi or float plane. My family and I spent summers in Hesquiaht harbour. My parents started Hooksum Outdoor School when I was a child. I’d guide university students, high school students, and elementary students around our Hesquiaht territory. I’d take them hiking, canoeing, kayaking, surfing, and harvesting. My parents haven’t been operating since Covid hit but that was always where I spent my summers: on the land, away from cell phone service, running water, and electricity. I really learned a lot out there and continue to learn each time I get to go home.

BCRN: You also have an important role on the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council as Vice-President. With September 30th being the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation what message would you like to share with the greater rugby community.

Mariah: I’d like to remind everyone that rugby is a game for everyone to enjoy - every body type, every size, every skill. I would also like to encourage people to make time to learn true history of this country of Canada. Learn about the people who’ve survived and occupied these lands and waters since the beginning of time and create space to listen to them. I encourage folks to read the TRC reports and calls to action. Read the stories of the survivors and make a commitment to ensure this horrific history never repeats itself.

BCRN: On the subject of Truth and Reconciliation and moving forward, what are some of the things you would like to see happen over the next five years.

Mariah: There’s so much that needs to happen for real reconciliation to be achieved, it’s difficult to pinpoint where we need to start but I know that we need to create safe places for our survivors and those impacted by the recent unearthing of truths. They will help guide this critically important work that’s happening all across Canada. I also want to see invested resources making sure the cultural and mental supports are available for those impacted.

Here's a list of the most critical things that Canada and BC can do within the next 5 years to make reconciliation a reality:
  • I’d like to see a National strategy to respond to the 94 Calls to Action from the TRC final report, MMIWG calls to justice, and UNDRIP with timelines, budgets, and goals.

  • BC to implement DRIPA in a meaningful way – free, prior, and informed consent, I see, as a staple to acknowledging our inherent rights moving forward in a good way. We need to see BC implement this.

  • BC to respond to the “In plain site” report recommendations through a concrete action plan to end the systemic and explicit racism in BC’s health care system.

  • BC to implement BC First Nations Justice Strategy – the ultimate goal is to return to our own laws

  • True history taught across the board in all schools and included in textbooks, society wide - Dr’s, lawyers, police officers, teachers, etc.

  • Fund our language programs long term – restore, reclaim and revitalize. The Indian Residential School system’s, a.k.a genocide camps, mandate was to ‘rid this country of every Indian’. Though Canada failed, one of the things they did a great job of doing was silencing our languages. We need to see long term funding to regain, restore and revitalize our languages.

  • We need to see Canada and BC uphold our inherent rights. In particular Canada needs to implement the Ahousaht et al decision that states 5 Nuu-chah-nulth Nations on the west coast of Vancouver Island have the inherent right to harvest from their hahoulthee (traditional territories) and sell it. We need to see our laws upheld by the actions of Canada and BC and for DFO to stop gatekeeping access to our very means of survival.

  • We need to be included at every decision-making table that makes decisions about us and that impact us.

BCRN: Thanks Mariah, appreciate you taking the time to talk to us.

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