Ward photographing the Calgary Hitmen vs the Swift Current Broncos. PHOTO: JENN PIERCE

Growing up, Candice Ward struggled to relate with her Cree identity, but her work as a freelance and sports photographer has enabled her to connect with other Indigenous people, allowing her to gain a deeper appreciation for her heritage.

Raised in Bonnyville, Alta., Ward grew up 20 minutes away from her home nation of Kehewin Cree Nation. But growing up off-reserve was challenging for Ward, especially when it came to being around others like her.

Living in a small community meant different backgrounds were not always appreciated, and Ward says this contributed to her lack of a relationship with her Indigenous roots.

“So I struggled a lot, growing up, to like, connect to my background and connect to having a cultural identity,” she says.

Early beginnings

After high school, Ward enrolled in SAIT’s journalism program, with hopes of becoming a photojournalist.

“I like working with people,” she says. “And I think creating, like a snapshot or like a moment in somebody’s life is really interesting to me, because it’s never going to happen again in that way, they’re never going to look exactly the same again.”

While working for daily newspapers such as the Edmonton Sun and Metro International/The Star, Ward began shooting news assignments, but quickly realized that it was not for her.

“I don’t have that necessarily, like, fondness for the negative,” she says.

Eventually, Ward started to take on more sports assignments in order to transition away from news and explore other styles of photojournalism. 

“But then I started loving it, like I loved sports and it was a lot more fun,” Ward says. “And so just mentally, it was just something that I attached to a lot more than news.”

She shifted away from reporting and into sports photography, allowing her to establish herself as a prominent sports and freelance photographer, shooting primarily for the Calgary Hitmen, Stampeders and Roughnecks.

Building friendships

Jenn Pierce, a fellow sports photographer who has worked with Ward since 2015, says Ward’s influence serves as an inspiration for her and others in the industry.

“Candice is kind of one of those people that she would rather build the people up around her than tear people down to kind of get to her success,” Pierce says. “Which has been really great for me. She’s been a really great mentor and friend over the years.”

Pierce says that Ward’s dedication to her work pushes Pierce to be a better photographer.    

“Candice isn’t one to kind of let you sit back and do nothing. She’s always kind of telling me I should be, you know, striving for more and getting my name out there more and things like that, which I always really appreciate,” Pierce says.

Through her work, Ward has had the opportunity to meet and photograph other Indigenous people across the city, such as Angela Gladue, a traditional and fancy hoop dancer.

The two have been friends for years, prompting them to collaborate on a photoshoot that Ward says was “just for fun.”

The shoot quickly evolved into a painting for the Beltline Urban Mural Project, a program intended to cover various buildings throughout the Beltline community with works of art. Artist Kevin Ledo painted one such display based off of an image from Ward and Gladue’s shoot.

“So that process was just like a very low stress, very fun, and it’s such a cool thing to see one of your pictures, but like he did, up on a, like, four-storey building,” says Ward. 

Ward says part of the appeal of photography is the opportunity to capture a moment in time, like this photo of Blake Stevenson celebrating the overtime winner against the Regina Pats. PHOTO: CANDICE WARD

Connecting to her culture

These types of projects have allowed Ward to see how other Indigenous people connect to their culture, allowing Ward to re-evaluate her relationship with her heritage. 

“It’s just seeing a lot of this positive, like people living within their culture and, like, the positive in that, so like, connecting with somebody like Angela, and her love of dance, and seeing how that like brightens her up, and like it’s so healing and spiritual for her, that’s such a beautiful thing,” Ward explains.

linda manyguns, associate vice-president of Indigenization and decolonization at Mount Royal University, says the importance of building connections within the Indigenous community is essential to strengthening cultural identity.

“It’s really critical. Experiential learning is the foundation of what is Indigenous,” says manyguns. “And you should find your own identity too.”

This appreciation of her clients’ passions has allowed Ward to do just that, while recognizing there is no one way to be or act Indigenous.

“A friend of mine told me … ‘You don’t have to be anybody’s definition of an Indigenous person. You just are one.’”

Ward hopes to use her relationship to her culture to push for more diversity and inclusion within the realm of sports photography, and to show others like her that although their path might look different, there is room for them within pro sports photography.

“So to me, showing Indigenous people that there’s a place in these roles is an important thing for me.”

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