Grant gives Indigenous youth a fighting chance through boxing

“We hook them in with boxing, but it’s so much more than the sport,” said Head Coach Ivy Richardson, Nuxalk and Gusgimukw Nations, about the transformational training programs she’s holding for Indigenous youth with support from Island Health.

In April 2023, Richardson’s Red Girl Rising Movement Society was one of 29 recipients of a portion of a total $1.1 million through the first Island Health Resilience and Safety grants aimed at helping improve mental well-being, build youth resistance and mitigate harms associated with the toxic drug supply.

“We are facing so many real challenges today. This innovative approach is about building resilience, fostering community, and empowering our youth to thrive,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “By providing these opportunities, we are not only helping to improve young people’s wellbeing, but also equipping them with the tools they need to succeed in all aspects of life. The Red Girl Rising Movement Society is making a real, meaningful difference in the lives of Indigenous youth on the island.”

In partnership with the host Nation and Boxing BC, Richardson put 20 Indigenous youth from across B.C. through the paces at a training camp for three days this summer in W̱SÁNEĆ Territory at the Tsartlip First Nation (west side of Saanich Peninsula). Within one week of registration opening, through only word of mouth promotion, the program was full and there were 100 people on the waitlist.

“Soccer and basketball are usually the only sports available, so this was an opportunity to try something different and get outside their comfort zone, while building relationships with other like-minded youth and strong leaders. We also focused on mental well-being and helped develop their toolkits with healthy coping and lifestyle habits,” said the former amateur boxer. “It was incredible to see the transformation in such a short time, to see them arrive shy and reserved, and then see the confident smiles on the last evening.”

Sixteen-year-old Margo Recalma, Hesquiaht First Nation Qualicum, Nam’gis First Nations, attended the camp and is one of 10 athletes on Team 700, B.C.’s first competitive Indigenous youth boxing team, also funded partly through the Resilience and Safety Grant. Her first competition will be in May in Sooke on an all-female international card.


Pictured: Margo and Ivy, Team 700

“I’m really grateful for Ivy and Aubrey [Aubrey Morrow, another coach] and the team, grateful for the coaching and for pushing us hard,” she said.

The grade 11 student said the two programs have changed her life. “Before boxing, I wasn't doing well at school or anything and now I've been doing much better in school. Boxing has taught me about breathwork and that’s helped me with everything in life. I’ve also improved my sleep and I’m trying to eat better.”

Walter Fred, TSESHAHT and Ucluelet First Nations, said the camp and being on the team have positively impacted nearly all aspects of his life too. “My mental health and physical health have improved, and my lifestyle has changed. The boxing and training is mentally challenging and strengthening, which gives me an extra push in life.”


Pictured: Trent, Walter and Keanu, members of Team 700

The Team 700 training and program, based out of the Nanaimo Boxing Club, also encourages members to be community champions and build capacity. Recalma was hired as a junior coach and is at the gym six days a week. Fred has been helping to facilitate boxing programs across the province, including in his hometown of Port Alberni.

“Generally we fail youth by setting the bar too low and just passing them through,” said Richardson. “So we push our youth and have high expectations, and they exceed the goals all the time. Our youth deserve to thrive and not just survive.”

“Island Health's support has been instrumental in creating these opportunities for our Indigenous youth, and we want to express our heartfelt gratitude for making a lasting impact on their lives. Together, we are empowering the next generation and providing them with the tools they need to succeed, not only in sports but in life,” she said.


Pictured: Team 700 with Coach Ivy (bottom right)

The Resilience and Safety Grants provide the opportunity for not-for-profit organizations, local government organizations and Indigenous Nations, communities, and for-profit businesses (in partnership with a non-profit) to apply for one-time funding to advance youth resilience. The Youth Grants encourage connection to culture, belonging to a family or community, connection to stable and supportive adults, and autonomy, competence and purpose. The latest round of grant recipients was announced April 4.

Learn more about the Resilience and Safety Grants.

Learn more about Richardson and Red Girl Rising Boxing, Fitness, and Wellness and Team 700.

All photos courtesy of Anna Kawahara, Serene Studio.