For Garaline Tom, basketball is more than just a game. It’s a connection to her culture.
A member of the Lake Babine Nation – located on the banks of Babine Lake in central B.C. – Tom and her parents moved from the reserve to Nanaimo when she was young. Her parents, she said, were looking for better opportunities for their children.
“But the flipside was that I had to leave my culture and my family, which was extremely difficult,” Tom said.
After immersing herself in school sports, the Douglas College Bachelor of Applied Psychology student discovered a love of basketball. Through playing in exhibitions, such as the All Native Basketball Tournament, the game became the connection she was seeking to her heritage.
“It was so important to me because I was able to meet other First Nation youth and visit different reservations,” she explained. “It was something I hadn’t had before.”
Her love of basketball led her to Douglas College, where she made the varsity team. She initially was mulling over a career in athletics, but through her work as president of the Student-Athlete’s Council and Aboriginal Representative for the Douglas College Students’ Union, Tom discovered a passion for advocacy.
“I don’t know if I would have found out how interested I am about social issues and working with First Nation youth if it wasn’t for my involvement with extracurricular activities. Douglas helped me become more of an activist,” she said.
With a Sport Science Diploma already under her belt, Tom’s next step is to complete her Psychology degree – and maybe even a Master’s degree – before taking off across the country – and eventually the United States – to visit reservations and encourage healthy living to youth through sport.
“I have a very personal connection to mental illness. I have battled numerous mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, for many years and continue to struggle,” Tom said. “I have lost a family member and close family friends to mental illness and suicide – which is a huge problem on reservations.”
Tom aims to promote healthy living on reservations as a mental-health worker while encouraging sports as a healthy outlet for youth.
“I want to spread hope among Aboriginal youth to help them see that they are capable of so much more than they think. There are so many possibilities beyond the borders of their reservation,” she said.