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Many Guns Boxing & Fitness Centre at Siksika First Nation opened less than a year ago. Before that, Nation members had to drive to Strathmore or Calgary to use a fitness centre

When Rosario Duck Chief moved home to Siksika nearly 10 years ago, there was no gym for him to continue training. So, he started practising Muay Thai in his basement with his daughter, Angela, who was no older than six at the time. By 10, she was hooked on the sport. Photography by Leah Hennel/The Globe and Mail

Metal chains rattled as young children threw jabs at punching bags hung from the ceiling of a boxing gym on the Siksika Nation. Before each punch, participants lined up the shot, bringing their gloved hands just below their gaze, before releasing the strike. Muay Thai instructor Rosario Duck Chief polished their techniques, as other instructors had done for him years earlier.

The Many Guns Boxing and Fitness Centre, located southeast of Calgary, has become a gathering place for members of the First Nation to heal through fitness. Mr. Duck Chief began the sport in the city 20 years ago, at times skipping meals to afford the classes. He said it gave him discipline, focus and the ability to overcome anger issues that stemmed from his youth.

“You realize you’re alive. You can feel that pain, you can feel that progress and you want more,” he said.

Mr. Duck Chief hopes bringing the sport home will build strength in mind and body to younger members of the First Nation, including his daughter, Angela – a 14-year-old who is already a worthy opponent for him.

“There’s no other feeling like it in the world.”

The Siksika Nation, located east of Calgary, is part of the Blackfoot Confederacy, which also includes the Kainai, Apatohsipiikani and Amsskapipiikani nations. The name Siksika comes from the Blackfoot words sik, for black, and ika, for foot. It has a population of about 7,800.

The Many Guns Boxing and Fitness Centre on Siksika First Nation opened in August, 2021, after multiple delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, becoming the first of its kind in the community. Rosario Duck Chief says he never expected to become an instructor – especially in his own community – but it has been a dream come true.

Angela Duck Chief wraps her hands before putting on her boxing gloves. The Many Guns Boxing and Fitness Centre was named in honour of late boxer Clifford Many Guns, who serves as an inspiration to many people in Siksika.

Angela Duck Chief, 14, is much like an assistant coach to her father, Rosario Duck Chief. She knows the drills, striking patterns and how to encourage others in the class, such as Laura Springgay, to give it their all. The father-daughter duo can be seen sparring before students arrive, often laughing between strikes.

During a class, Claire Tallman learns how to properly protect her hands by folding a piece of long fabric across her knuckles, palm and wrist. Muay Thai instructor Rosario Duck Chief teaches students the importance of protecting themselves against harm, both physically and mentally, through Muay Thai.
From the careful wrapping of students’ hands to the repositioning of their feet or shoulders before they throw jabs, he spends time with each kid to ensure they get helpful feedback and motivation to succeed.

It can be awkward at first for some of the students to grasp the art of Muay Thai, but nerves often give way to eagerness by the time class is over – with students such as Laura Springgay wanting more time to test out their skills on boxing bags.

Rosario Duck Chief not only teaches children, but also adults in the community, including Charles Springgay, whose kids are also learning Muay Thai. Duck Chief says the classes focus on building confidence without fear of judgment.

Angela Duck Chief has been practising Muay Thai for a significant portion of her life and even wants to compete when she is older. Now that the sport has secured Olympic recognition, she has set her sights on competing at the highest level.