Agoojin: She Hangs in the Sky - The Story of Jayme Menzies

By Elyce Pereira

Jayme Menzies was unaware of her Métis identity as she was making a name for herself on the mainstream sport scene. For 5 years she was a setter for the University of Winnipeg's Wesmen women's volleyball team. Since discovering her Métis heritage, Menzies has gone to great lengths to seek out ways to get involved in the Indigenous community through sport. At the same time, Jayme began a long and successful relationship with the Manitoba Aboriginal Sports & Recreation Council (MASRC), eventually serving as a volleyball coach for the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) and becoming a member of the MASRC Board of Directors. "You can really dream big, and the MASRC has been supportive with any idea that I have come up with."

It was during her work with MASRC that Menzies fully realized that Indigenous athletes are often overlooked. Finding that there were zero scouts present at the 2017 NAIG was an eye opener for Jayme, who was used to seeing scouts around every corner at mainstream tournaments of the same caliber, such as the Canada Games.

Some of Jayme's most valued friendships are her co-Indigenous coaches, because they have all shared so many special, meaningful and life altering moments that have happened at NAIG and other events. "Building relationships is the most important thing" to Jayme and to many other Indigenous coaches and athletes.

The biggest connection is felt during the opening ceremonies at NAIG, where Jayme points out that "the place is just bubbling over with pride". The opening ceremonies act as a safe space for people to rock their colours and their regalia where it is entirely celebrated. The amount of pride in the NAIG opening ceremonies overshadows almost any other thing that Jayme has seen within any sports community.

Jayme wanted to play an active role in helping shine a spotlight on Indigenous athletes and offer opportunities in a safe space. In 2018, Menzies founded Agoojin. Agoojin is a Winnipeg based volleyball club for young female and two-spirited Indigenous athletes from across Manitoba. The name Agoojin means "she hangs in the sky" in Ojibwe. There are two age categories: 18 and under, and 16 and under. This program helps bridge the gap between the Indigenous sport system and the mainstream system, and allows elite volleyball to be accessible to Indigenous athletes in Manitoba. Within its first year, 3 Agoojin athletes were picked up by university volleyball teams. The program does not end for the athletes as they move on to post-secondary education. Agoojin is a family and these athletes will continue to be supported throughout their careers.

Agoojin and it's members hope to grow the club to include more than two teams, create summer programs, and to mentor new coaches. Covid-19 puts a bit of a wedge in these plans, but the next move is to have an Agoojin 14 and under team. By allowing athletes to start at a younger age, they will become more comfortable within the sport, the community, and playing with non-Indigenous athletes. The goal is to get to the point where Indigenous athletes no longer need Agoojin to access the mainstream high-level programs. Some advice that Jayme has for current and future athletes and coaches is to "dream big; you can break out of the mold".

"Working with the MASRC and coaching an Indigenous sport is such a breath of fresh air because everyone is allowed to bring their whole person to the table. I know I'm welcomed as my whole self, and that's just a better way of living."

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