This is a big week for trailblazing Iskatewizaagegan #39 Independent First Nation basketball player Emily Mandamin.
She was one of the athletes honoured Wednesday at Scotiabank Arena during the Toronto Raptors’ Indigenous Heritage Night. And Torontonians began seeing a picture of her in a Raptors jersey on the side of a streetcar as part of a joint initiative of the Raptors and the Toronto Transit Commission.
“It was super cool,” Mandamin said Thursday from Winnipeg, where she is a player in the University of Manitoba’s basketball program.
Working with Canada’s only NBA franchise “has always been my dream,” she said.
“I’ve been a die-hard fan ever since I was younger, and so … being there (in Toronto for a photo shoot) and being able to put on the (Raptors) jersey is super surreal.”
Mandamin joined the Manitoba Bisons team this year after playing college basketball in Illinois and Texas.
Joining the university’s squad brought her back to the city where she played high school ball at Dakota Collegiate, and not far from the home community where she first became a court standout.
Mandamin said her father “sacrificed a lot to raise me and kind of helped me chase my dreams as well.
“And my whole community has been supporting me my whole life,” she said. “Really, without my family and my family back in my community I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Seeing herself on the side of a Toronto streetcar was “super emotional” for a “rez kid” like her, she said.
The streetcar-side honour was great news in the Treaty 3 community of Iskatewizaagegan #39 Independent First Nation, southwest of Kenora on the north shore of Shoal Lake.
“I cried,” Stephanie Mandamin, Emily’s aunt, said with a chuckle. “Tears of joy.”
Emily showed a strong enthusiasm for basketball as a young child, when she was “a star in the making,” Stephanie noted.
A basketball court on the reserve was rebuilt in honour of Emily and had an official unveiling ceremony this past June. The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation funded the court’s refurbishment.
Others recognized in the Raptors-TTC program include the legendary Onondaga distance runner Tom Longboat, who in 1907 became the first Indigenous person to win the Boston Marathon, and B.C.-born wheelchair basketball star Richard Peter.