Volleyball Canada


Volleyball Voices: Shaniya Vance

As a part of the Truth and Reconciliation process, Volleyball Canada is seeking Indigenous Peoples within the volleyball community to share their stories. Our hope is to bring awareness to the broader volleyball community about the Indigenous cultures that volleyball athletes come from and to bring awareness about the past that their people have endured, recognizing the barriers and challenges Indigenous People have faced and continue to face today. Ultimately, we hope to highlight the tangible steps we can all take to ensure volleyball is an inclusive and enjoyable sport for everyone.

For many, a passion isn’t something you seek out but something you walk right into.

For Shaniya Vance of the Potlotek First Nation in Unama’ki, that meant walking through the gym after school and being asked to play volleyball. And it stuck.

Born and raised in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Shaniya took her volleyball career to the university level, playing for the St. Thomas University Tommies in 2015-16. On her way there, she played in the 2014 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG), a bright spot in her volleyball journey.

With her playing days behind her, Vance has turned her attention to the sidelines, coaching the Sydney Academy high school girls team and a 16U club in Cape Breton. Recently, she was named to the Coaching Association of Canada’s Canada Games Aboriginal Apprentice Coaches Program, and she’ll be heading to the 2022 Canada Games as an assistant coach with Team Nova Scotia.

Off the court, Shaniya works as an Integrity Services Officer with Employment and Social Development Canada, a department of the Government of Canada working to improve the standard of living and quality of life for all Canadians.

Volleyball Canada recently had a chance to chat with Shaniya to discuss her connection to the sport and what steps can be taken to make volleyball more inclusive moving forward.

Volleyball Canada: How were you introduced to volleyball?

Shaniya Vance: To be honest, I was walking through the gym after school and there happened to be a volleyball practice going on. They were short players and they asked if I would join the team. I was pretty athletic already, so I said yes and decided to stay. I had previously never touched a volleyball so it was an interesting introduction, but it turned into one of the best decisions I could have made for my athletic career. 

VC: What helped you stay connected to the sport and do you think it will be a lifelong connection?

SV: Having influential coaches and supportive teammates was an important aspect of my desire to continue playing the sport throughout and after high school. Coaches that empower athletes to achieve their potential but did not overwork us as players was a crucial part of my positive experience in sport. This is why I believe I will have a lifelong connection – I have been coaching now for seven years and my coaching philosophy is certainly inspired by the positive role models I had when growing up. 

VC: What is your favourite Indigenous volleyball experience?

SV: Getting to attend NAIG 2014 as an athlete. Having the opportunity to play a sport I loved, with people who shared my cultural background was amazing. Having an event that allows athletes to not only play at a North American tournament but one that also focuses so much on culture is something that was truly unforgettable.

VC: Did you have a favourite Indigenous player when you were growing up?

SV: I honestly did not, as I was not aware of any Indigenous players that played volleyball outside of my home province. 

VC: What is one piece of advice for young Indigenous athletes who want to play volleyball beyond high school?

SV: I would suggest getting involved with the sport as much as possible. Whether it be attending community gym times, school, and/or club volleyball teams and camps; getting as much exposure to the sport will go a long way. Not only will you develop relationships with people you may not have crossed paths with, but you’ll also learn the game from multiple perspectives.

Also, hard work is crucial – not only on the court but in the classroom. Don’t be scared to ask questions and use any support offered with regard to your education. 

VC: Who were your biggest supporters while you were growing up?

SV: Definitely my mom. She worked hard so I could have the opportunities she did not when growing up. She made sure that I had the chance to try every sport I wanted and that I did well in school.

VC: What does volleyball community mean to you?

SV: To me, my volleyball community is second family to me. It’s a community that is passionate about the same sport so there’s a mutual desire to see one another succeed. Whether it be athletes, coaches, or referees, it’s a group of people who celebrate one another’s success. 

VC: Do you think there is a place for conversations of reconciliation in the sport of volleyball?

SV: Yes, not just in volleyball but in all sports. Growing up, I didn’t know many Indigenous athletes outside of my community, until I attended NAIG. In this environment, you realize how much of an impact sport had on our childhood and the life skills we had developed because of this. 

Within my community sport organization, we see more and more Indigenous athletes getting involved, which also comes with support from their communities. I see great friendships being developed and stories shared about one another’s culture. Without volleyball, this may have never happened for these athletes. 

VC: Volleyball Canada is making moves to contribute to Reconciliation, do you have any advice for athletes and coaches who are new to learning about Truth and Reconciliation?

SV: I think being aware of what truth and reconciliation truly means is the first step. One may see “truth and reconciliation” and think that it’s intimidating or that it’s too big for one person to work towards. But once the awareness is there, one can reflect on how this can be applied in areas of their own lives. 

When it comes to resources regarding topics related to Indigenous culture, such as this one, it’s important to recognize that the best information regarding Indigenous culture comes from an Indigenous source. 

VC: What can national/provincial sport organizations, clubs, or teams do to support positive experiences in volleyball for Indigenous peoples?

SV: In order to create positive experiences for Indigenous peoples, sporting organizations should be connecting with Indigenous communities to see how that’s possible. For example, what it would take to support Indigenous athletes within their organizations, the best way to collaborate on camps and/or different barriers Indigenous youth may face when it comes to participating.


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Shaniya Vance