Desiree Isaac-Pictou hopes to inspire more Indigenous people to get involved in sport

Canadian Paralympic Committee

November 19, 2023

Mi'kmaw woman makes her major Games debut at Santiago 2023

Isaac-Pictou in training

SANTIAGO – She’s only 23 years old but Desiree Isaac-Pictou knows the stories about past Indigenous athletes who went on to represent Canada on the international stage. Now she hopes to etch her name with those legends starting with the 2023 Parapan American Games.

When asked about her biggest role models, Issac-Pictou doesn’t hesitate to mention former Canadian national team water polo player Waneek Horn-Miller, the first Mohawk woman to compete in the Olympic Games and a Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame member. Horn-Miller was not only one of the top players on the team, but she was one of the first Indigenous athletes to have a voice.

It still reverberates throughout Indigenous communities across Canada.

‘’Waneek’s back story, the challenges she faced, her voice during the Oka crisis and how she persevered through that and still became an incredible athlete makes her a big role model growing up for sure,’’ said Isaac-Pictou.

‘’I wasn’t born when a lot of that was happening, but I heard the stories growing up.’’

Isaac-Pictou, who grew up in Ugpi’ganjig Eel River Bar, N.B., graduated from the University of New Brunswick in business in 2022. She now works in social media and communications with an Indigenous community’s foundation that strengthens the relationships between the philanthropic sector and First Nation communities in Atlantic Canada.

Last year she was involved in an Indigenous sports research project that could potentially influence Sport Canada decisions. The goal of the project was to get a sense of how many Indigenous people participate in sports in Canada and identify their needs in sport.

‘’It’s important to have representation whether it is for disability, Indigenous or other minorities, just to be a good role model,’’ said Isaac-Pictou.

She was a member of Team New Brunswick at the Indigenous Games in 2014 and 2017. However a freak accident near her hometown in 2020 turned her life upside down as she lost both her legs.

Sally Hutt, the executive director at Parasport New Brunswick became a mentor for Isaac-Pictou and introduced her to Para sport. She hooked up with coach Clary Stubbert who was impressed with her athletic skills.

The journey to the national team thus began but went into overdrive in 2023. She competed in wheelchair basketball for New Brunswick at the Canada Games, was a member of Canada’s U25 women’s wheelchair basketball team that placed sixth at the world championships, and is now rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest stars in the sport such as Cindy Ouellet, Kady Dandeneau and Arinn Young.

National team head coach Paul Bowes is excited about his two new young players in Santiago, Isaac-Pictou and Beth Johnson of Winnipeg. Johnson had a similar route to Isaac-Pictou. New to the sport, she competed at the Canada Games and U25 worlds in 2023.

‘’Desiree and Beth are going to bring a lot of youth and positive energy,’’ said Bowes. ‘’We talked to them about their role on the team. They know they might not get a lot of minutes, but they are asking questions and learning and listening from the coaches and other players.’’

The Canadian women’s wheelchair basketball team opened the Santiago tournament Saturday with an impressive 61-44 win over Brazil.

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