Thomas Leaf

Exploring connections between sport, history and kinesiology

July 21, 2023

Meet this year’s recipient of VIU’s Lieutenant Governor's Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation

Born and raised in Nanaimo, Thomas Leaf says attending VIU was a “logical stepping stone” in his educational path.

However, beyond just attending his hometown university, the Bachelor of Kinesiology graduate (with a minor in history) excelled, ultimately being named as this year’s recipient of the Lieutenant Governor's Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation, an annual award that recognizes a top graduating student who has excelled in their studies while positively contributing to life at VIU and/or in the broader community. Leaf was officially recognized during his convocation ceremony in June.

“I am very proud to receive this distinction,” he says. “It’s an extreme honour, and I can’t think of a better way to close my journey at VIU.”

We caught up with Thomas to get his further thoughts on the award, the program and his time at VIU.

What drew you to pursue your post-secondary education at VIU?

All my schooling to this point, including elementary and secondary, has been right here in Nanaimo, so VIU was the logical stepping stone to continue my studies. Being born and raised in Nanaimo, I consider myself fortunate to have learned from such incredible and inspiring educators locally, in my hometown.

What does receiving this award and recognition mean to you?

I am very proud to receive the distinction of being VIU’s Lieutenant Governor’s Medal Winner for 2023. It’s an extreme honour, and I can’t think of a better way to close my journey at VIU.

Can you elaborate on the work you did that led to you being recognized with this award? 

It was a series of events that occurred this past spring term at VIU in the course KIN 491. I developed a depth of knowledge about Indigeneity in sport and its connection to culture in Indigenous communities.

I did this through attending workshops, such as the Aboriginal Coach Module in Victoria at the Canadian Sport Institute, in partnership with the Aboriginal Sport Circle; participating in NCCP modules, such as the Anti-racism in Coaching course; conducting semi-structured interviews with local barrier-free Indigenous sport organizations; and connecting with prominent scholars across Canada. My time as a VIU Kinesiology and History student also exposed me to the historical connection between Indigenous peoples and the game of lacrosse. I also read many books.

With this in mind, I conceptualized and completed a project to develop a deeper understanding of Indigeneity in sport, and its connection to culture in Indigenous communities. The scope of my project eventually narrowed to the Indigenous origins of lacrosse, mostly in Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe communities. I discovered three important findings: 1) the role lacrosse (and sport) can play in the resurgence of Indigenous communities; 2) the Creator’s Game; and 3) pan- Indigeneity.

With all this, I shared my findings in the form of written reflections, voice-over PowerPoints, and class presentations. After my last class presentation, I was invited by the VIU Kinesiology faculty to present again at the 2023 Kinesiology Celebration in mid-April. The entire KIN faculty, graduating class, and their families were in attendance. In mid-May, I was invited by VIU’s Faculty of Education to present again to the broader Faculty of Education during their All-Faculty Spring Meeting. I was then nominated by my Kinesiology professors for the 2023 Lieutenant Governor’s Medal.

I think my work and research I did this past year are significant, especially considering the Truth and Reconciliation Commission outlined 94 calls to action in their 2015 report, and call to action #87 aims “… to provide public education that tells the national story of Aboriginal athletes in history.” I believe that I exemplified this call to action through academic research, reading, conducting interviews and completing workshops, which resulted in acquiring a depth of knowledge on Indigeneity in sport. Justice Murray Sinclair outlined that “Education holds the key to reconciliation…” and I look forward to expanding my knowledge on the power of sport in reconciliation at the University of Toronto next fall.

Were there any particular challenges you faced during your studies or otherwise, and how did you overcome them?

Educational challenges and their management are an aspect of personal growth and maturity. During my time at VIU, whether challenges were course-related, life-related, or just stress in general, I would try to make time for myself. This might come in the form of communicating with a friend or family member, exercising, experiencing nature, or just making sure I was getting enough sleep. I found these strategies helpful when striving to keep myself balanced and in the right frame of mind. 

What’s next for you, education or career-wise, or both?

My next chapter will begin this fall as a graduate student at the University of Toronto, where I will begin a two-year Master’s program in Kinesiology. In Toronto, I plan to further explore the interests I developed as an undergraduate student at VIU, researching the intersection between Kinesiology, Sport, and History. I will be part of a lab studying safe sport with an historical perspective. I am excited about the educational discoveries that lie ahead. I believe that by applying the skills and knowledge I gained from VIU, I will be able to make valuable contributions to my academic journey.

How do feel your time at VIU helped in your path towards achieving this goal?

My time at VIU allowed me to learn more about myself, not only as a student but as a person. Sport has always assumed a large part of my life as an athlete, but I developed an interest in coaching later on as well. The Kinesiology and History courses I was exposed to during my time at VIU, combined with the guidance and inspiration I received from VIU’s faculty members helped to achieve this goal. I think of my time at VIU in the highest regard, and that’s a testament to the people I was surrounded by. 

What was the highlight of your time at VIU, and what has been the biggest takeaway? 

The highlight of my time at VIU has been growing up in my hometown, at a university my father teaches at, and making personal connections with professors across various disciplines. The amount of support I received from my instructors means a ton to me, and this is largely thanks to the engaging, small class sizes at VIU. I can’t think of a more appropriate learning environment to have experienced over the last five years.

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