Tuja Dreyer wins 2020 Premier’s Awards for Indigenous Youth Excellence in Sports

Tuja Dreyer, of the Ross River Dena Council, won the 2020 Premier’s Awards for Indigenous Youth Excellence in Sports. (Photo by Doris Dreyer)Tuja Dreyer, of the Ross River Dena Council, won the 2020 Premier’s Awards for Indigenous Youth Excellence in Sports. (Photo by Doris Dreyer)
Tuja Dreyer and his sist Kassua continue their swim training with coach Emil Dimitrov in West Kelowna last spring. (Photo by Doris Dreyer)Tuja Dreyer and his sist Kassua continue their swim training with coach Emil Dimitrov in West Kelowna last spring. (Photo by Doris Dreyer)
Tuja Dreyer prepares to throw Paralympian Michelle Jorgensen, who is part of Team Canada for the Tokyo Games, during a judo training session. (Photo by Doris Dreyer)Tuja Dreyer prepares to throw Paralympian Michelle Jorgensen, who is part of Team Canada for the Tokyo Games, during a judo training session. (Photo by Doris Dreyer)

Tuja Dreyer, of the Ross River Dena Council, is an athlete with many talents. When he isn’t in the pool, you can find him on the mats for judo or wrestling.

In August 2019, Dreyer moved from the Yukon to British Columia. Despite the move, Dreyer remained active in his athletic pursuits.

From September 2019 to September 2020, Dreyer has seen plenty of success in his three sports.

He won third place at B.C. Winter Games in judo. At the same event, this time in the pool, he and his teammates earned third in the team event.

During the Youth Provincial Championship in Feb. 2020, Dreyer won third place in the U14 Male – 50kg category in judo.

At the MJB Law Classic, a swim meet, Dreyer took second place in the 200 metre fly, 11-12 age group.

Finally, in wrestling, Dreyer stood atop the podium at the Okanagan Zone Wrestling Championship.

Dreyer’s successes did not go unrecognized as he was named as a recipient of the Interior region 2020 Premier’s Awards for Indigenous Youth Excellence in Sports. Dreyer, 13, was one of six Interior recipients of the honour.

He is one of the youngest winners of the Premier’s Awards for Indigenous Youth. Only a handful of 13- year-olds have ever been given the honour.

The Indigenous Sport, Physical Activity and Recreation Council (I·SPARC) announced the 2020 award-winners on April 30.

I·SPARC, in collaboration with the Province of British Columbia, launched the regional nomination process in late 2020, receiving nominations from each of I·SPARC’s six regions (Fraser, Interior, Northeast, Northwest, Vancouver Coastal, and Vancouver Island) for Indigenous athletes, under 25 years of age, who are competing in performance sport, and demonstrating a commitment to their education, culture, and promoting healthy and active lifestyles.

“Congratulations to all the regional winners of the Premier’s Awards for Indigenous Youth Excellence in Sport,” said Melanie Mark, B.C.’s Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture, and Sport. “I’m so proud of your accomplishments both on the field and in your community.

“Your outstanding achievements are a source of pride, especially for your family, coaches, and everyone who has supported and encouraged you along the way. This, to me, is reconciliation in action. More than ever in these challenging times, we need young people like you to give us hope. Keep following your dreams and reaching for the stars.”

Bruce Baptiste, the I·SPARC regional lead said all the winners are an inspiration.

“I personally congratulate the recipients in the Interior region,” said Baptiste. “Now more than ever, inspirational leaders like you are helping bring our communities together. You have honoured your province, your nations, and your families with your unwavering commitment and hard work.”

Dreyer’s mom Doris said Tuja does not like to speak about himself, but he and his family are very proud of the accomplishment.

When Dreyer spoke with the News, he remained humble and thankful.

“My coaches and teammates pushed me further and thank my mom and my sister,” said Dreyer. “My mom made me swim. My sister, I wanted to beat her.”

Dreyer began swimming at age seven with the Whitehorse Glacier Bears – a team his sister was already racing on.

“I like swimming for racing people,” said Dreyer. “If I hadn’t started swimming in the Yukon I wouldn’t be as good. I’m going to keep working hard and stay dedicated.”

He began judo in late 2017 when he was staying with family in Potsdam, Germany.

“I tried a couple of different sports there like fencing and rugby, but I liked judo the best and I kept swimming,” said Dreyer in his nomination form. “I completed my yellow/white belt before moving back to the Yukon in summer 2018.”

Dreyer began wrestling in late October 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic put a halt on the rest of Dreyer’s competition season, however, he remained diligent in his training.

“Swimming was cancelled briefly, but the swim club made sure we still did things,” said Dreyer. “That was something I always did during COVID.

“Judo was not so much contact, but we did spring training.”

In his nomination biography Dreyer spoke about what he likes about sport and what his future goals will be.

“I want to be healthy and learn more about the sports I am participating in,” wrote Dreyer. “Sport keeps me active every day. It taught me that I can be successful. And I like how sport competitions take me to different cities.

“In the future, I would like to participate in national and international competitions. I am really hoping to make Team BC for the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) next year and I am working hard on this goal.”

His sister, Kassau, competed in the 2017 NAIG Toronto event and Dreyer said he is looking forward to sharing that experience with her.

He also hopes in winning this award that he can be a role model for other kids.

“I come from a small First Nation in the Yukon,” he wrote. “Maybe I can inspire other kids up North to take up sport and become good at it.”

Although living in B.C. now, Dreyer still embraces his Yukon First Nation ancestry.

His name, Tuja, is the name of a long-ago shaman – his grandfather gave him the name. Dreyer is Kaska and part of the Wolf clan.

When back in the Yukon, Dreyer enjoys playing hand games with his father, a Kaska elder, and spending time on the land.

In his time away from the swimming pool or judo and wrestling mats, Dreyer enjoys learning the piano, playing chess and building computers.

The awards ceremony could not be hosted in person, instead, commemorative videos were made highlighting each of the region’s athletes.

Contact John Tonin at john.tonin@yukon-news.com

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