Dan Fox reflects on coming full circle
At 18 years old, one may not anticipate the lasting impact a decision may have, the challenges you may be faced with, or the personal growth you may experience as a result of choosing to pursue your passions.
It is often through perseverance, acceptance, forgiveness, and reflection, that you find gratitude for where you’ve came from, the lessons you’ve learned, and the ability to recognize and appreciate when things have come full circle.
It was athletics that brought Dan Fox to Medicine Hat in the 1970s, leaving his homeland of the Blood Indian Reserve No. 148 for an unknown and outside world.
It was a world in which he stayed for only one year, but it was a year that would forever shape who he is and who he would become.
The journey begins
Fox was born and raised alongside nine brothers and eight sisters on sacred lands located to the southeast of Lethbridge, AB, neighbouring the communities of Fort MacLeod and Cardston, as well as the St. Mary and Belly Rivers.
From a very young age, his mother instilled the knowledge in him each morning that he was destined to one day attend college after he completed his high school education. With his mother’s intuition and his incredible athletic abilities, fate would have it that he leave home for the Gas City to share his talents on the field, court, and in the classroom.
Fox was recruited through the Prairie Junior Football League (PJFL) to play as a starting running back for the Medicine Hat Rattlers, a football team that was not affiliated with Medicine Hat College (MHC) at the time, although it shared the team name now used today. Simultaneously, his recruiter suggested he try out for the men’s basketball team at MHC as he was aware of available scholarship opportunities for Fox to attain a post-secondary education.
As a multifaceted and hard-working athlete, Fox earned his spot on both teams. His experience in the city would be one full of challenging situations and interactions. Having left behind the only way of life he knew for a foreign culture and unfamiliar environments, he was faced with the reality of racism and discrimination.
“It was a cultural shock for me arriving in Medicine Hat on my own at such a young age. I grew up playing on all-native sports teams through grades 1 to 12 and was never really exposed to the outside world, so it was a very big change for me,” recalls Fox.
“At that time and for the whole year, I truly felt like I was the only native person in Medicine Hat. In fact, the first week of football tryouts, I just about turned around and went back home because I felt unwelcome.”
But Fox had been cautioned by one of his coaches on the reserve that he may experience exclusion in his new environment because of his heritage.
“He said ‘when you get out there and start playing, you’re going to be segregated. The only way you can overcome that is to be successful on the field and that will make changes for you.’
“The first time I walked into the dressing room, everyone stopped and looked at me. Some of my teammates wouldn’t even talk to me. All I could think about to keep going was my old coach saying, ‘Don’t you walk away – you prove you’re just as good an athlete as they are.’ And that’s what I did.”
Reflecting on his experiences at that time, Fox credits his strong athletic teachings about discipline and goal-setting, and his inner emotional strength that allowed him to face the obstacles and challenges ahead.
“It woke me up to fully understanding that not everywhere I went was going to be native-friendly and I had to stay strong in order to overcome the issues that native people experience.
"I learned early in life that you can be successful regardless of external circumstances as your power comes from within. I chose to dig deep emotionally and use my experiences as motivation to put my best effort forward to persevere, succeed, and excel, instead of walking away.”
Fox was invited to try out for the Alberta Golden Bears after his first season in the PJFL, however a serious car accident would inevitably end his playing career. He chose to stay involved in sports from a coaching perspective and eventually returned to St Mary’s Residential School to support the Warriors basketball and football programs for which he played growing up.
“Many young native people have a lot of athleticism in them, but when it comes to meeting the non-native world, it doesn’t fit their lifestyle and they’re more likely to turn around and go home. As a coach, I try to pass along the same teachings I learned as a player to the youth I work with – that life is not always an easy road, challenges will come hard, and it’s up to you to persevere and not give up.”
A new path is found
Following his football and basketball career, Fox worked with Indian Affairs before attending Mount Royal College where he received his social work degree. His career in the helping profession began in 1981, working 24 years for the Province of Alberta at a minimum correctional facility on the Blood Reserve where he would once again experience life-changing influences from his peers.
During his employment at the correctional facility, Fox was mentored by four Elders that guided him back to his cultural and spiritual heritage, the way of life he now practices at all times. He credits the Elders as being his greatest inspiration and having the largest influence on his life both professionally and personally.
“Being taken in by the Elders made a huge impact on my way of life, from connecting me back to my roots to learning to use the teachings of our culture as the foundation for my inner strength."
"Participating in spiritual ceremony for 14 years has taught me how to maintain balance in my life and I am very fortunate to have worked with the Elders as their teachings have lead me to live in full expression of my native culture and spirituality – day in and day out.”
Fox sees the opportunity to share his learnings as the highlight of the work he does now with youth and adults as a cross-cultural teacher to non-Indian foster parents for Kainai Children’s Services. He is also a full-time bison rancher on his homeland of the Blood Reserve.
Coming full circle
As for his experience at MHC, Fox says the college will always have a good place in his heart.
“Jim McFetridge, one of the recruiters for the college, was one of the best people around to assist and support the young people coming in – he was like a mentor to me. The support I received from staff and faculty at the time was great and I always felt that they were trying their best to help me get ahead in my education and athletics. MHC is a good college to be at and was a stepping stone to a very good career for me.”
In fact, a proud moment for Fox came 22 years after he played for the college, when his daughter received a scholarship to play on the women’s basketball team at MHC. Seeing her run into the gym, playing for the same school and team he played for brought tears to his eyes.
Coincidentally, he also happened to see one of his old teammates at the game, who was there to watch his son play.
“With all bad comes good and I choose to see my experience from back in the day as positive. Had I not come to Medicine Hat, I wouldn’t have had that moment of joy seeing her play and having my experience come full circle.”