The crowds came out to see retired NHL star Jordin Tootoo in two completely contrasting events in Sheshatshiu, Labrador on Tuesday.
At one, he spoke to a large crowd about the loss of his brother to suicide. In the other he joined the bench of the Sheshatshiu Eagles for an evening hockey match.
“It was a good experience being on the ice with him. His shot’s wicked [and] he’s really fast too,” said goalie Matthew Davis.
“Every kid on our [reserve] in Sheshatshiu, we all look up to him because he’s a great leader for Indigenous people.… If he can do it, we can do it.”
Tootoo, the first Inuk to play in the NHL, retired from professional hockey last fall, saying he wanted to give back to Indigenous communities. This is his first visit to Labrador.
“They’re getting the experience of playing with a high-calibre First Nations person,” Rena Penashue said while her son skated with the star, calling him a “positive role model.”
“This is going to give them the drive to succeed, whether it’s in their education or in their career.”
Sharing his story
At the time of his retirement, Tootoo also said he would work to raise awareness about mental health and support suicide-prevention initiatives.
During his keynote speech Tuesday at the Ishpitentimun Suicide Prevention Conference, he spoke at length about losing his brother to suicide and his own battles with sobriety.
“We all fight a fight nobody knows about,” Tootoo said when asked who was the toughest fighter he’d ever faced.
“Everyone can watch you fight playing hockey. The toughest fight is your own self.”
Tootoo wasn’t the only one who told their story to the crowd that day. Melvin Michel told his story of losing his best friend, Uapastan Martin, to suicide.
“I got to tell everybody how it is and how it can affect everyone,” Michel said.
“When I shared that podium with Jordin today, that’s when I thought to myself, I’m going to share this story with many people, as much as I can.”
Tootoo was continuing his tour around Labrador this week with a visit to Natuashish as well as some Nunatsiavut (Inuit) communities, and said the reception he received in Sheshatshiu was amazing.
“A lot of these kids can relate to my story, and if I can help one or two kids … it’s a bonus,” Tootoo said.
Related stories from around the North:
Sweden: Arctic hockey team to wear rainbow jerseys all season in support of LGBT rights in sport, Radio Sweden
United States: Envisioning recovery and rebuilding a life in the Alaskan Arctic, Alaska Public Media