“Hope through Hockey” team returns from Weagamow!
The 10-person team arrived home safely from Weagamow via Thunder Bay on Sunday, excited about what transpired during their unique week spent in -50 degree weather! The objective of the mission, involving a number of USS Tigers hockey
players, was to bring hope to this remote First Nations community that has suffered deeply from poverty, addiction and suicide.
Weagamow, Oji-Cree for Round Lake (also known as North Caribou Lake First Nation), has about 750 residents (and 900 total in their band) and is part of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation comprising some 45 communities. Their treaty area makes up about 1/3 of the province of Ontario. With a newly built arena the team took equipment generously donated by the Uxbridge community to outfit some 45 aspiring hockey players, with the idea of hosting daily hockey clinics ending with a community tournament
The team worked extremely well together, including:
• Tim Bierema, playing for the Uxbridge Bruins
• Adam Cranley, University of Waterloo
• Ryan Lavrench, Guelph University, playing for Fergus Devils
• Josh Lubbock, Dalhousie University
• Ryan Noakes, Laurentian University
• Tavis Smith, Western University
• Jeff Wilson, USS playing for Clarington Toros and Uxbridge Tigers
• Mary Lue Mahaffey, from Hamilton and former sports director, Alberta Aboriginal community
• Jennifer Wilson, who has been in Weagamow before
• Coach Simmonds, USS Tigers
Some amazing things happened over the course of the week.
The team helped open their brand new arena, a modern facility that had not been publicly used until we arrived. The ice was natural and there was no zamboni, meaning that it had to be flooded and scraped by hand.
We planned for 45 children but over 120 young people registered. As a result we added a clinic for first time skaters (given that we had taken some 80 pairs of skates, and some had their own). The schedule each day was:
• 12:30 Learn to skate (with 65)
• 2:30 Learn to play (with 40)
• 4:00 Advanced Hockey skills (with 15)
Many children who had never skated were, in just a few short hours, skating on their own. The week culminated in a 6 game tournament with the kids who we surprised with new team sweaters (that we left at the arena) and new socks. Our team members were the coaches and we had a wonderful time with families watching their children play hockey for the very first time. 50 children participated and we held an awards ceremony, with their Chief in attendance. Each participant received a medal, a team photo and a hockey bible, and 8 players were chosen for most sportsmanlike
and most improved trophies. Chief Jowan was presented with a signed USS Tigers jersey.
With over 120 kids skating, and on average 2 caregivers coming to the arena at some point during the week, we were able to engage some 350 people or half the community! It was a great success.
We had taken a skate sharpener for the arena (which they did not have) and Jeff Wilson trained 3 men to operate this new capability. Prior to that skates had to be taken out of the community to Sioux Lookout or Thunder Bay for sharpening.
We were wonderfully accepted, given full access to the arena, and the Band Council facilities. We also had the opportunity to meet a 114 year old native lady who lives out in the woods. Our team was very moved by this…we gave her a shawl as a gift, but she was even more impressed with the Uxbridge Tigers puck! We are all thinking of eating beaver and muskrat meat too, since this has been her diet her whole life!
On Monday we heard of the loss of one of the young men in our own Uxbridge community in a traffic accident (a friend to several of our team members) even while Weagamow lost a member who was in another community at the time, but had been drinking and was found frozen to death.
We also learned some other interesting things about this community:
• With some 38 untimely deaths over the last few years, some 300 members had turned to prescription drugs (alcohol in Weagamow is illegal)
• 140 have enrolled in a new rehabilitation program started 18 months ago
• Normally, 70% in such programs relapse, they have only experienced 3.5%! They attribute this to the fact that they use no program, other than studying the bible to assist in this recovery
• Several years ago one of their goalies committed suicide. Mr. and Mrs. French had packed Dylan’s goalie pads in bag #29. We offered them for use by a young person who would not be able to afford their own equipment.
The freezing temperatures did not affect the warm response, and in a community dinner Friday night we were invited back by Chief Jowan. One of their coaches said “tomorrow is not goodbye, its we’ll see you again.” We should be deeply proud of our young men of Uxbridge, seeing them sacrifice their time and use their hockey talent; seeing them lead such and ambitious program, and tenderly helping the eager young people with such care and concern.
We will now decide if we make this an annual event, and we may try and obtain more equipment to send in a shipment for those who we were not able to outfit.
All of you were part of this too and we are grateful to everyone who made “Hope for Hockey” such a success. In closing, this letter from Tiannah, to her coach, Ryan Lavrench, says it best….
We are still in need of some funding for air transport costs, so if you haven’t participated and would like to help you can make a cheque payable to Uxbridge Baptist Church and place it in an envelope marked “Hope Through Hockey”(donations over $25 will be receipted for tax purposes):
Uxbridge Baptist Church “Hope Through Hockey” 231 Brock St. W, Uxbridge, ON L9P 1N1
Have a question? Call Courtney, Tigers manager at 905-852-2333