Scarborough Hockey Association and Whitefish River First Nation share experience from first leg of exchange program

From November 4 to 6, the Scarborough Hockey Association Under-11 Select team and Whitefish River First Nation youth participated in an exchange program. The exchange program provides players, parents, and other participants the opportunity to develop new relationships and a cultural understanding through hockey. The weekend consisted of on-ice activities, watching a Maple Leafs practice live, a visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and had educational sessions on fitness and nutrition. The participants also got to share the ice with the 3Nolans – Ted, Brandon, and Jordan – who took part in the Friday’s on-ice sessions, as well as shared stories and answered questions during dinner.

Michael Purdy, GTHL Director, said one of his favourite moments from the event was the visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“We got 15 minutes, our group with the Stanley Cup,” Purdy shared. “That was cool, the kids all got to go up and were allowed to touch it. Many of them were challenging each other to kiss it. It was neat to see that something like that leaves such an impression.”

“Then there were just smaller moments when you got to see kids having a genuinely, really good time doing something. When you got to see the kids interacting with each other, we’ll hope for more of that, perhaps on our return visit.” Purdy said.

The Scarborough Hockey Association U11 Select team is scheduled to visit Whitefish River First Nation February 3-5.

“They did make a point of saying how grateful [Whitefish River First Nation] were for the opportunity, how important they thought it could be, extending their appreciation to the GTHL for making it happen.” Purdy explained of the appreciation from parents during the weekend.

Purdy said the hope is that the kids will not only make new friends but also gain a better understanding of each other.

Steve Whitaker, the Principal of Shawanosowe School, said he is excited for this upcoming February when the Scarborough U-11 makes the trip to Whitefish River.

“This weekend was pretty special, but now it’s our turn to showcase what we have up here, both in terms of the land and the ability to get outdoors. Hopefully, we’ll play some outdoor hockey on the bay. And I’m not from here originally, but I have been coming here for 30 years or so, and my wife is from here, and her family and a lot of family and friends. There’s a real cultural wealth that people are excited to share with others and be able to welcome this group of kids from the city who probably most of them have never seen anything like it. It’s going to be exciting; it’s going to be enjoyable,” Whitaker shared.

Whitaker said he hoped the event also helped the kids open their eyes to the different cultures in Canada.

“There’s a lot of talk about reconciliation and different cultures, learning about the Indigenous cultures here. The hard part is making that happen in practice,” Whitaker explained.

“For me, one of the key things is bringing people together to get to know one another, because certainly in my education I didn’t learn much about Indigenous cultures. And even the kids that we met this weekend, some of them admitted out loud that they hadn’t learned very much even now,” Whitaker continued. “So there is change taking place, but it’s gradual and in practice for me, the overall thing is we need to bring people together with some common goals and get to know each other. I’m also a great believer in the concept of sport for development.”

Whitaker offered that sports have the power to bring people together and are an excellent way for kids to bond and become comfortable with one another.

“This event is a practical response to the call for reconciliation and a way to move forward. Introducing young people to different cultures, getting to know one another, coming together and enjoying their sport, but at the same time building those bonds that will hopefully break down barriers to communication in the future.”

Edward Paibomsai, a coordinator for Whitefish River First Nation, said it’s essential for the kids that live in the Greater Toronto Area to understand First Nation and Indigenous culture.

“I think it’s very important just because it gives perspective on the Indigenous and First Nation side, but also gives them an idea of a different competition in Ontario,” Paibomsai shared.

Nala Talouse said it was very humbling that her daughter Melody Hester was able to be a part of the event.

“A lot of the kids that we brought, some of them are not strong skaters, and an hour into the weekend, a lot of them were already skating on their own, so I’m very happy for all of them,” she shared.

Renne Tratch, whose son plays for the Scarborough Hockey Association’s U11 Select team, described the event as an incredible opportunity.

“Well, I don’t think this happens enough. I mean, oftentimes when kids join a sport, they stick with their team, they stay with the same teams that they compete with. So to be exposed to kids from other cities, from other cultures, find out where they’re from, and then spend a weekend together, it’s a great way just to learn about each other and just play a game they love,” Tratch said.

As the U11 Scarborough Hockey Association Select team prepares to visit Whitefish River First Nation from February 3 to the 5, the GTHL hopes this is the first of many exchange programs to come.

To view all the photos from the weekend, click here.

To learn more about the Scarborough Hockey Association X Whitefish River First Nation exchange program, click here. 

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