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More than a century after he passed away and his role as a soccer trailblazer was seemingly lost to history, Xul-si-malt is having one helluva year.

Better known as Harry Manson, Xul-si-malt was the only player of aboriginal descent to play on the three Nanaimo premier soccer teams from 1897 to 1905 — but his accomplishments were largely forgotten after his tragic death in 1912.

That changed last November, when he was recognized as a "pioneer" by Canada's Soccer Hall of Fame, an honour which has led to one posthumous accolade after another.

Now, Vancouver soccer teams are readying to breathe life anew into Manson's achievements, by competing in the first-ever Harry Manson Legacy Soccer Tournament.

One of the key aspects of the tournament is that it's open to aboriginal and non-aboriginal players, men and women.

"Everyone can play. No one is excluded. I truly believe those were Harry's values," says Robert Janning, the tournament organizer.

"Over one hundred years after his passing, Harry's story and his outlook on life can still give so much to the world today."

Overcoming racism

The Harry Manson Legacy Tournament includes four teams, from Vancouver-area First Nation communities and urban aboriginal students, to players from the Salvation Army and Portland Hotel Society who are homeless or recently homeless.

Vancouver's Deputy Mayor Andrea Reimer helped organize a team for the tournament that unites the City of Vancouver, Musqueam First Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, and Squamish Nation, in hopes of overcoming barriers.

"The racial diversity that exists in the City of Vancouver does not exist on the soccer fields," says Reimer, who has been an active soccer player since the age of five. She recalls playing in her youth against "tough and terrific" female First Nations soccer players who she feels could have become elite players.

"Had there been an active program to support [aboriginal girls], they could have brought women's soccer to a higher level faster, but that support wasn't there."

In Harry Manson's days, racism was almost palpable. He was one of the first aboriginal players to win a B.C. provincial soccer championship, and guided a Snuneymuxw First Nation team to an unprecedented city championship.

Local newspapers reported incidents of jeering white fans shouting "Kill the savages!" when Manson and other Snuneymuxw players took to the pitch.

After his accidental death at the age of 32 – he was run over by a train while hitching into town to get medicine for his child – the coroner's report referred to Manson as a "drunken Indian."

Janning, a part-time taxi driver, played a pivotal role raising attention for Manson's accomplishments after unearthing his story while researching soccer's history in B.C.

He was struck by archival news reports which not only illustrated Manson's skill but also his determination to break colour barriers in a sport then dominated by white people.

"The racism he was surrounded by, he didn't care: 'I don't care if you're white, if you're red, I just want to play soccer.' I think that sends such a positive message in today's world where there's a lot of hidden segregation," says Janning.

Inspiring new generation

The Native Education College (NEC) in Vancouver is entering a squad, keen to participate in a tourney that pays tribute to a First Nation soccer star.

"There are so many phenomenal First Nation athletes in the communities, and often they don't receive the same kind of recognition that athletes in the mainstream Canadian sport system receive," says Claire Askew, sport and fitness coordinator at NEC.

"It's been really inspirational for our players to learn more about the legacy of Harry Manson."

NEC has never fielded a soccer team, because of lack of funds. But the Manson tournament is free, and a local community centre donated gym time for the team to practice. The newly-created NEC Nighthawks are co-ed, with players from 20 to 60 years old, hailing from many cultural backgrounds.

Nighthawks coach Terry Point of the Musqueam First Nation hopes Manson's legacy encourages young aboriginal athletes to dream big.

"One of the hardest things for First Nations kids is having that will to leave home, and do the training necessary to become a pro athlete. The more we recognize people that have succeeded in that goal, all the better," says Point.

​Janning is volunteering his time as tournament organizer, and the modest tournament costs are covered by donations to the Friends of Harry Manson website.

The indoor, five-aside competition will be held in North Vancouver on Oct. 17, followed by a feast. Janning hopes the tournament will become an annual event.

"This is a special opportunity that facilitates aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities getting to know one another," says Janning.

"Soccer has a special way of bringing people together."

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