Athletes with Team North, in Arctic Canada are shocked and disappointed that they may not get a chance to play at the next annual National Aboriginal Hockey Championships, with no one to organize the team for next year.
“We’re missing a golden opportunity here for these kids,” said Michael Tuton, who was the assistant coach for the boys team this year.
Earlier this month, Aboriginal Sports Circle NWT announced it will no longer organize Team North. For about five years, the sports circle gathered top Indigenous hockey talent from Yukon, the N.W.T. and Nunavut, into one team and paid most of the costs to attend the championships — spending between $150,000 and $200,000 every year.
The organization said it will now focus its resources and funds on N.W.T. athletes of all levels and all sports.
This year, Whitehorse was the host city. Tuton, who’s from Whitehorse, said the N.W.T. sports circle did everything to get the team ready for the event.
“Kudos to the N.W.T. for everything they did, and for the amount of time they did it,” said Tuton.
“Everybody could kind of see it coming that it’d be pretty tough for one territory to take care of the other two every year.”
That’s why Tuton said he wasn’t surprised when he heard the news that the sports circle isn’t organizing Team North anymore.
“At the end of the day, it’s always the kids that lose out,” he said. “It’s a shame.”
Tuton said he wants to see Yukon Aboriginal Sport Circle step up to help organize the team.
“They’re, you know, somewhat bummed out. What can these kids do? I mean it’s on the adults … to find a way to keep it going.”
“I’d like to say a huge thanks for all the years of support by Aboriginal Sports Circle [NWT],” said Iqaluit’s Jamie Savikataaq, another assistant coach for the boys team. Savikataaq said there were about 12 athletes from both girls and boys teams.
Savikataaq said being part of Team North teaches kids so much, and is confident it isn’t the “end of the road” for the team.
“They become totally dedicated to something such as hockey, they develop pride, self-confidence, mental awareness and mostly lasting friendships.”
‘All of us were shocked and kinda sad’
“I was thinking, ‘What the heck?'” said Addy Lindell from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, who has been on the Team North girls team for the past two years. She’s played hockey since she was three.
“Hockey’s the only sport I play,” she said. “I think that’s a bummer for everyone like … we don’t want to not be able to go anymore.”
“I was like, ‘Wow.’ I was shocked,” said 16-year-old Ashton Underhill from Whitehorse, who played the boys team’s right wing this year.
Underhill said he was with a group of other Team North athletes when he heard the news about the sports circle no longer organizing the team.
“All of us were shocked and kinda sad because it was only our first year playing … we loved it so much.”
Underhill said he hopes all three territories will contribute to bringing back Team North.
“I hope that we get to play next year,” he said.
Defenceman Connor Cooper agrees.
“It was super, super saddening,” said the 16-year-old, who is Métis and from Whitehorse. “Not only the hockey but the cultural side of things was super fun.”
Cooper described going to the sweat lodge and having a traditional potluck with his teammates.
“All territories, everyone kinda came together .. people from Nunavut and N.W.T., who I wouldn’t have had a chance to meet if it wasn’t for Team North,” Cooper said.
“I’m not quite sure how to fix it, but I sure hope it gets fixed.”
Related stories from around the North:
Norway: Swedish musher wins Finnmarksløpet, The Independent Barents Observer
United States: Iditarod adds four new board members amid criticism, Alaska Public Media