By Chris Marchand
They arrived from all corners of Ontario’s Far North, 66 hockey teams who played an impressive 182 game schedule that was the 2018 Lil’ Bands Native Youth Hockey Tournament.
A feat of scheduling, Day 8 of the tournament saw 17 division finals play out as the stands swelled with fans.
Sunday’s main event, the Midget A-side final saw Sachigo Lake grab a 3-1 victory over Bearskin Lake. The PeeWee A-side final was settled by a 9-5 win by Sandy Lake over Mishkeegogamang. The Girls division saw Lac Seul beat Bearskin Lake 9-2. Another Sandy Lake squad, this time in the Novice division, claimed a 10-2 A-side win over Lac Seul. The closest final of all was an 11-10 battle between Bearskin Lake and Sandy Lake in the Atom A-side final. The fourth Bearskin Lake team to appear in a final took the Bantam A-side in 5-2 win over Slate Falls.
The greater significance of this annual large-scale gathering of remote northern residents was not lost on the political stage either. Monday’s opening puck drop featured both Nishnawbe-Aski Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler and Grand Council Treaty 3 Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh, alongside a host of city officials eager to present a welcoming air in the wake of further tensions over the exploits of local Senator Lynn Beyak, which have put Dryden’s role as a host community for future tournaments in question.
“I hope the city of Dryden rolls out the welcome mat for these kids,” said NAN Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler on Monday. “We support having this tournament here because it’s what the kids want to do, for us to do anything else would be to go against our own kids. Many of these kids, parents and coaches have worked very hard over the past year to be here.”
Towards the end of the week, news from Saskatchewan of the verdict in the trial of Gerald Stanley in the death of Colten Boushie, as well as the deaths of two Indigenous people from Northern communities in Timmins, saw players praying together for healing at centre ice.
On Thursday, the tournament saw a visit from Ontario Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation David Zimmer who was in the region on visits to several communities.
“What I’m hearing from Indigenous Leaders is that they sense, and I sense too, that in the last five years although there is a lot to be done and a lot of hills to climb, I think it’s fair to say that things are, right now, in a different place than they were four or five years ago,” said Zimmer. “I think there is a heightened public awareness of Indigenous issues.”