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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Time out

BY Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash Mar 24, 2023

My father does not speak much about his time at La Tuque Residential School. Like many other survivors, he tells short stories and anecdotes. One thing he does recall is how hockey helped him through 10 years of political imprisonment.

My dad speaks fondly of the brotherhood he found playing for the residential school’s team and the Waswanipi Chiefs, and the sense of pride it brought when navigating an oppressive system aimed at shaming every part of his existence.

Hockey has a big place in our communities, and I understand why. The sport was a key component for boys to piece themselves back together as they transitioned from residential school to adulthood.

However, changing-room culture was and still is a fertile ground for trauma through bad coping mechanisms, and I do not think the sport is in its healthiest state in our communities, or anywhere really.

Stories of cover-ups by Hockey Canada of criminal behaviour and testimony from rookie players being sexually assaulted during hazing incidents have made headlines for over a year now.

In Eeyou Istchee, a large amount of money is invested in sponsorships for teams and events like tournaments. Players are put on a pedestal and become the stars of the community. When you sponsor people, I would imagine that you expect them to perform to their full potential at events that promote good sportsmanship, health and decorum. 

So why are we allowing the display of debauchery we see at some of our tournaments? As a player, you are accountable to your sponsors and should be on your best behaviour to compete and to represent your community. You can’t give your best performance if you’re hungover, under the influence and short-tempered.

Collectively, we support hockey teams so much more than other activities that youth partake in. Shouldn’t we have accountability mechanisms in place to prevent disgraceful incidents from happening at tournaments? 

I do not mind people drinking or using drugs on their free time, but I do not think sports events are the right place to do that and especially when that kind of money is involved. 

I can understand why it could feel awkward or wrong for organizers to monitor adults when they’re off the ice. While organizers reflect on how to better promote healthy lifestyles in their events, communities should talk to members of their teams about work ethic when they are representing us.

I find it unfortunate that stories of hope and self-esteem told by residential school survivors are not reflected in what we see at hockey tournaments these days. It is sad to see some crazy-talented athletes waste their potential in self-destructive behaviour while we watch and say nothing. We should instill values like dignity and health back into hockey in Eeyou Istchee.

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Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash is Cree from Waswanipi, and is the Nation’s newest columnist. She is an activist and writer who also has a regular column in Montreal’s French Metro Newspaper.