As Alex Nelson says himself, sport has always been his “artery of life,” a lifelong passion.

In Nelson’s home village of Kingcome (north of Alert Bay), the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw people built a soccer field and from an early age he always had a ball at his feet. Soccer was his saving grace surviving seven years in the Alert Bay residential school system and later helped him overcome other life challenges. Discovering the power of sport as a vehicle for freedom and healing for Indigenous peoples, he worked to share it whenever possible. It began coaching youth, women’s, and men’s soccer teams, something he continues to do over forty years later.

In 1989, Nelson helped found the Aboriginal Sports and Recreation Association of BC, Canada’s first provincial Aboriginal sport body, and served as the organization’s executive director until 2009. He also helped found the Aboriginal Sport Circle, Canada’s national body for Aboriginal sport and physical activity, and served on the Native Participation Committee for the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria.

Nelson was the first chairperson and three-time president for the North American Indigenous Games helping develop NAIG’s constitution and by-laws. He led the bid process that successfully won Victoria the right to host the 1997 NAIG and then mobilized the Games’ organization, involving over 12,000 participants on a slim $2.5 million budget and short two-year time frame. Those Games are still considered perhaps the best ever held.

After decades working tirelessly elevating Indigenous sport across North America, today Nelson is revered as an inspirational leader and elder.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.